When we decide to start a company or build something new, we are fully aware that more things can go “wrong” than can go “right.” We know this, and yet we put a flag at our feet, our sights set on forging new ground, claiming new territory, forming a new community, and eventually putting “a ding in the universe”, as Steve Jobs said, depending on our mission. Startups are so “cool” right now, and have become very much a part of popular culture, so I think we sometimes forget how terribly naive, blindly optimistic and almost delusional startup founders really have to be to think their mission will succeed over others, especially over others with similar ideas in the same market.
I’ve said this to potential investors who inquire about my background and to my peers alike: I kind of stumbled into founding a company, and perhaps this is why my mistakes seem like “DUH” ones to others, but why I was willing to take risks more seasoned entrepreneurs or business people were too scared to take. Unlike many who spend months building something during nights and weekends, who build up the courage to quit their day jobs, forgo salaries and benefits, and fully commit to something inherently uncertain and unpredictable, or those who attend Ivy league schools through which they’re encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship from the beginning, I blindly found entrepreneurship while in graduate school. For better or for worse, I always have and always will be the type of person to throw myself into something if life presents the opportunity. I did this with graduate school, which worked out pretty well, and then I did this with Parceld…which, so far, worked well in spurts, but has been the toughest 7 months of my life.
At this time last year, I had never stepped foot in the tech community in New York. To say it was foreign territory would imply that I even knew it existed; I was fully engrossed in finishing my last semester of graduate school, and was anxious about where I’d work upon graduation. Journalists – talented ones at that – weren’t technically making boatloads of money, or even finding dependable employment, and I knew that a traditional reporter’s role wasn’t for me. I was always very interested in online communities, and hoped to merge that with my lifelong obsession with fashion and its life cycle. While I wasn’t a part of the tech community in the way I am now (which is still just scratching the surface), I was always an early adopter of shopping and social sharing sites. I hopped on Polyvore, Svpply, Pinterest and Tumblr very early in each of their respective lives, and that’s where the idea for Parceld crept into mind. As an avid user of these sites, I noticed gaps in the process of being inspired and being able to actually DO something with this inspiration (buy, locate).
I had a choice to make upon graduation: go get a job, or pursue Parceld. I chose the latter, and am so f-ing glad I did. But now I’m at a similar crossroads: I have run out of funding, my technical co-founder quit and pulled the code out from under me (major lesson learned there: USE GITHUB), am personally out of savings with student loan payments taunting me from around the corner, and have not even half of my original ask committed from friends and family. That whole “getting a job” thing, which seemed so reasonable and almost chronological a year ago, now seems like a major failure and let-down.
While tapping into my gracious network of friends and investors (who decided not to invest but have been endlessly helpful), I have gotten advice that ranges the spectrum from “keep on keeping on” to “go find a job now.” Someone I respect a ton even suggested I bartend as a way to pay the bills while figuring it out. I considered it. Those who suggest I get a job aren’t wrong for doing so; I’m young (24) and, as far as “traditional” work experience goes, have a lot of room to grow, learn and contribute. These people suggested I can continue to brand myself under the prestige of a larger company, and they’re smart for suggesting this. The truth is: I’m still figuring it out.
Thanks to a former fellow and friend Adda, co-founder and CEO of Skillcrush, I was pointed in the direction of this farewell-of-sorts blog post from Buyosphere founder Tara Hunt, who recently decided to take a position elsewhere, and discontinue a 100% focus/dedication to her own company. Her biggest lesson:
and it’s one that is largely missed by the incredibly optimistic and often overly-privileged startup community – is that it DOES take money to build stuff. And time. And those who have a large supply of both have more runway to make several mistakes on the road to über success.
Most of us don’t have big wads of cash and time to burn, so we have one shot and then we have to figure out how to pay the rent and feed ourselves. And those who achieve success in one shot are just as lucky as they are admirable. And those who don’t believe that are either privileged (have time and money to figure stuff out) or amnesic.
A link to this couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m young, and in the grand scheme of life, I have time to “figure it all out”, but time is a-ticking to turn Parceld around. I just have to accept the fact that, given the circumstances, getting a job is not only on the radar but is a real possibility. I know that if my next move is at a new position somewhere, that I will dedicate the same fire, drive and relentless ambition to my new role as <insert something awesome>.
That cliché phrase about how the beginning is always some other beginning’s end? Applicable here. All I know is: hustle never dies, it just changes shape.
With all this said, here are a few lessons I’ve learned thus far in these short 7, going on 8 months of trying to start a company:
1. LEARN HOW TO CODE, and USE GITHUB: Obviously, this is stressed and discussed every which way we turn on the internet, and for good reason. But this is probably the #1 “complaint” I had while building this: I felt helpless in some ways. You don’t have to become your own CTO, but knowing what’s going on under the hood can save you tears, money and time. My team and I started using Dropbox before switching to Github, and it was too late for some of the code (which I still hope to salvage and get back). If you’re a founder, you probably HATE feeling helpless, and when I went to visit the alpha product and it wasn’t there, I broke down. Feeling helpless sucks. The second I get some dough in the bank, I’m taking some courses beyond my Codeacademy online sessions, which are fun, but not really very actionable.
2. BE AGGRESSIVE: No one likes someone who is too aggressive, but looking back, my idea of “too aggressive” could probably fit very nicely into the “persistent” bucket, which, quite frankly, is not enough when raising money. My father told me that, especially as a woman, to never be afraid to ask for what I want or to remind others of their commitments. People these days are busy, forgetful and over-scheduled; it’s quite possible my three emails each got buried, so a forth or fifth email (not daily, though; maybe weekly) would have served me well. I’ll never know.
3. ASK FOR HELP. Sure, I asked for money from my family and help from a few friends, but there are plenty of strangers I could have tapped into that could have added immense value to either the product, my time management, or other major aspects of my biz. I say “could have” because I’ll never know. Ask for help when you need it, accomplish more. Easier said that done, I know.
I’m just seeing the tip of the iceberg in the “lessons” category, but hey: now I know.
Onward and upward. More updates as they develop.