Faculty & Leadership Blog / Innovative Curriculum

25 Things I’ve Learned About Starting Up

Debi KleimanGuest post by Debi Kleiman, Executive Director, Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship

As the director of the entrepreneurship center at Babson I see our students in action every day. They never cease to impress me with their creativity, ingenuity and drive. But it doesn’t come easy. A lot needs to go right in order to succeed with your startup. So, in honor of Babson College being ranked No. 1 in entrepreneurship for 25 years straight, I thought I’d share my top 25 things (in no particular order) I’ve learned about starting up. Hopefully, there are some lessons in here for others that can help you on your entrepreneurial journey.

  1. Culture matters, a lot. Think about it early and often.
  2. Listen to lots of opinions, but ultimately as the leader, you have to decide.
  3. Angels invest in people they want to work with, more so than the opportunity itself, chemistry is important.
  4. The first version of anything you build will never be the best version, or perfect, just ship it (h/t @dcancel).
  5. Find ways to network your way to people you want to meet, learn from, sell to – have confidence – the worst they can say is no. But they often say yes. Warm introductions help.
  6. Sometimes you need to fire the client. Sometimes it’s just not worth what you are compromising in the process of serving them.
  7. Always seek feedback on your product/service. Learn from it. Then seek more feedback. And be sure to get feedback from non-users and people who are not in your network.
  8. Be gracious and professional when having to say no or when getting a no – you never know when that person will come back into your orbit.
  9. “Feed your winners, starve your losers” – this familiar adage goes for team members, product lines and marketing spend.
  10. Take care of yourself, you can’t build something awesome if you are not physically and mentally healthy.
  11. If possible, meet with experts like accountants and lawyers (many hold free office hours at accelerators and entrepreneur events) who can give you important perspective on your business and help you structure and plan for the future.
  12. You need to be able to describe your business in a clear and compelling way in 20 seconds or less. Keep practicing and refining until you can.
  13. Dividing founders equity is difficult and messy, but do it early (cc: Professor Les Charm at Babson gives a great talk on this).
  14. Starting a venture is hard. Being a solo founder is makes it even harder, try to find a co-founder.
  15. Don’t assume the board of advisors you have now are the advisors you need later, things change, your advisors should reflect what you need help with now.
  16. Hire slowly, fire quickly. Nothing can hurt a young company more than keeping a toxic person around, even if they are a high performer. When hiring, try to “back channel” or talk to lots of people about that person before giving an offer.
  17. As soon as possible, make a prototype or mockup of your idea so you can share it with others when describing your business. Even the most basic prototype can convey a lot more than words and will get you better insights.
  18. Show gratitude to people who help you along the way (cc: @janetcomenos).
  19. Create detailed target customer profiles, and share them with everyone in the company. Beyond the usual uses, they serve as an excellent filter for all kinds of decision making.
  20. Getting venture capital doesn’t determine success or failure (cc: @epaley of Founders Collective).
  21. If you have to talk about more than one revenue stream for your business to make it financially viable, it’s probably not a good business (this also includes any early stage business that counts ad revenue among its opportunities, please stop saying this).
  22. Involve your first customers in your business so that they become champions for you.
  23. When talking to investors, be optimistic but not unrealistic.
  24. Know your CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) right now, and what you want it to be in one year.
  25. You are the first and best salesperson – if you can’t sell it, no one can. So you’d better learn to sell.