Five Things Tech Founders Wish They Knew Back Then

November 28, 2014

8:00 am

At one time or another, I think we’ve all wished we could go back in time and make a few different decisions, knowing then what we know now. It’s human nature to want to go back and tell the youthful version of ourselves a thing or two. Maybe it would be how to handle a relationship differently, or a lecture on the power of compounding interest. There are many things the older, wiser, more experienced person we’ve become could share with that younger individual.

Even the most successful tech founders wish they could rewind to the past and impart some wisdom on their former, less business-savvy selves. Through my work helping early stage ventures grow their businesses faster, I’ve gathered some important nuggets discovered through time, trial and error by now seasoned CEOs. Hopefully, you’ll walk away wiser and won’t have to learn the hard way.

Work on “The Story” More Often and More Frequently

The story is one of the biggest weapons you have in your arsenal. Early stage company evolution, whether it be internal team development, fundraising, or selling, is all about connecting people to the passion and the “why” behind what you are doing.

It’s easy to mistakenly think that everyone else will get your mission simply because you do. Your company’s story can never be defined too clearly or polished too much. If you’re not working on your story religiously, chances are you’re missing opportunities. Practice pitching your business to family and friends until you can articulate the story without a hitch. Only then are you ready to share it with investors, potential employees, and the world.

Give Your Legal Docs the Attention They Deserve

Let’s be honest – legal documents and working with lawyers isn’t always a walk in the park. The truth is that the expense, the lack of time, and being too trustful often leave proper legal agreements out of the mix until too late.

If it’s the cost of working with a lawyer you’re worried about, inquire into financing options. Many law firms are happy to work with startups, and you may be surprised by how amenable they can be. Documents like your operating agreement, company structure, etc. must be definitive, drafted by a professional and legally binding. What seems like an unnecessary hassle now can come back to bite you later.

Know What You Don’t Know

There is a quote that says, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” It is important that any startup founder is as informed as possible – ask questions, and gain as much knowledge as possible. Try asking other successful tech founders specific questions and see what you can learn from their answers. Most executives are happy to help those launching a startup, and will freely give you advice or point you to valuable resources you can lean on for years to come.

Be careful not to discount input from other sources, as well. Successful entrepreneurs are a great place to start and gain pearls of wisdom, but your peers can be plenty insightful too. Reach out to those around you, your customers or users, and your employees to get their feedback on everything from your leadership skills to your company’s direction. It’ll allow you to see things with fresh eyes, and always have accountability checks and balances in place.

Aggressively Work on Your Network

Entrepreneurs often lament about not creating a more powerful network sooner. In addition to gaining knowledge from those around you, make sure you’re consistently working to connect with influencers. It’s often easy to get myopic and look at your own company or business, or your current board of advisors, and spend all your energy inside of that box. However, there are always people outside of that network who can be game-changers, either through perspective or influence.

Continuously try to identify who could fall into that network, as well as brainstorm tactics to get in front of them. You’d be surprised by who will talk to you. It’s not uncommon for CEOs to get some of the best advice they’ve ever received just by sending a note on LinkedIn and asking for it.

Invest in People

Ask any startup CEO and they will tell you that the two biggest priorities for a startup is raising capital and hiring. People are of utmost importance in any business so you need to be purposeful about who surrounds you every day. Don’t skimp on the time required to choose who your partners and employees will be. If you’re going into business with someone as an equal partner, you need to be fully certain that whoever you decide upon will be the yin to your yang. Try to remember you want people who complement you, not replicate you. The same goes for employees. Look for the skillsets in your team that are the ones you personally lack, and be sure the fit is right before shaking hands.

Don’t let these valuable insights from veteran tech founders pass you by. It takes intentionality to put these tips into practice, but they have the power to garner you great rewards in progress, and even revenue, over the long haul. And, if nothing else, perhaps they’ll prevent you from looking back one day and saying, “I wish I had known that earlier…”

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Robert Wallace is Executive Vice President of Marketing at Tallwave, where he leverages his entrepreneurial and strategic marketing expertise to develop and implement Lean Startup strategies for Tallwave early-stage ventures. He has more than a decade of startup and client-side experience developing growth strategies, positioning companies, and bringing products to market. Follow him at @robertawallace.

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