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Six things I did right in my first startup

You know how low the success rates are for startups. Make yourself as valuable to your business as you possibly can and you'll end up making your self more employable outside of it. Doing so also helps drive your business forward.

I've already blogged about what I did wrong in my first startup.

But, what did I do right?

... or at least, what do I think, I did right.

I'd break it down into six things.

I worked like a mad man and left it all on the field

This one's simple you for you understand.

I worked harder than anyone else I knew... except maybe a couple of lawyer/banker friends who work on deals.

For me this came pretty naturally after a while. Your startup is your baby. You obsess about it. It's difficult to switch off... I certainly couldn't.

I worked evenings, weekends and weird times in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.

Life isn't an audition and doing a startup sure ain't either.

It's your own time (and sometimes money) you're investing with; this seriously focuses the mind.

Stay sane, but don't look back regretting not giving it enough of a shot.

I built some key relationships, to the startup and the future

During my first few years in startup land I got better at working out who was quality and worth hanging around with professionally.

You'll meet time wasters in the form of investors, poseurs, service providers, partners; you name it.

That's natural. It's just how this wonderful game is.

You and I aren't all things to all men either.

When you work out who are the diamonds in your network, nurture these relationships. It's fun getting to know people better, especially in business. Remember that 'giving' is the best way to build relationships.

I built my relationships intently with other entrepreneurs, but most importantly perhaps with my mentor in digital marketing.

Which brings me onto the next thing I did right...

Learn a key skill set to leave with, should you need to

Doing this is not doing being 'short your idea'.

It's your insurance policy.

It allows you do try at being an entrepreneur, but then survive and perhaps thrive if Plan A doesn't work out.

You know how low the success rates are for startups. Make yourself as valuable to your business as you possibly can and you'll end up making your self more employable outside of it. Doing so also helps drive your business forward.

As I mentioned above, I decided digital marketing and strategy were the things I had to learn. Our business had the greatest need for these skills and after two less successful agency relationships I met my mentor and I found the subject matter extremely interesting.

It just made sense. So I learnt these skills.

I've mentioned previously that I think doing a startup is more valuable than doing an MBA. It's because this live learning that you do - building your skill set - is more powerful than theoretical learning in the classroom.

I didn't get stupidly wedded to the business

You should be massively exposed to your startup, if you're going to be an owner and control direction and strategy.

If you're going to hold a big position in the cap table, there is risk and skin in the game that comes with this. Fair dos.

But don't throw yourself 'all in', financially, emotionally, etc.

You might say: 'Oh, we know that dumbass', but loads of people do make this mistake. Note how many folks on the likes of Dragons Den have thrown all of their life savings into their potentially crazy idea.

Try and keep some personal savings back, so that if you get ill, or need to leave in a hurry, you've got some form of personal safety net. This helps you think smarter and make better decisions.

I learnt how to handle the craziness of the startup journey

You'll learn a lot about yourself doing a startup and about how to handle and rationalise the journey.

Lots has been written on this subject, by people smarter and more loftily positioned than me, but learning how to emotionally, physically and financially cope with the ride was certainly an experience.

One day things are fantastic, the next day the team feels empty and dispirited. One day your strategy is working, the next day you find some data that shows it's not, you're a mug and you cocked up. It's all on your shoulders too.

The best writing I found of this subject - and lots of other related wisdom - was in Ben Horowitz's book, 'The Hard Things About Hard Things'. You may have already heard of it, or read it. It's a best seller for good reason.

As Ben wisely counsels, you just have to make peace with the realities of being an entrepreneur.

Assume that each day will be a little crazy, change will happen all the time and lots of bad things will happen too.

Ultimately your startup doesn't matter as much as you think. If everything works out as badly as it possibly could, you're friends and family will still love you.

You'll be most powerful as an entrepreneur when you care deeply about your product/service, but can temper this with good entpreneurial psychology.

I, and my team, executed well, within our constraints

I've written before about how ultimately in my first startup the light was not worth the candle. The entrepreneurial direction and allocation of time and money wasn't smart enough.

However, the work my team and I executed, within these constraints was good.

We became the No2 organic search operator in sector, raised the bar in terms of content marketing, became one of the most recognised thought leaders and achieved a boatload of media placements. We also built some form of brand and recognition within our niche.

In our case, the marketing model was all about SEO and with a small amount of capital (financial and human) we made a lot happen. I am still proud of this and the people I worked with, even if we didn't really win.

Well that's it. Those are the main things I (think I) did right in my first startup.

Hopefully I'll get more right next time.

Agree with any of my points? What things did you do right in your startup? Share the wealth in the comments.

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