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9 Startup Lessons to Fuel Your First Mover Advantage

This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 15: Startup Attitude

I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last five years that have changed my life and outlook on everything. Some people might ask me:

What do you know about startups?

My background in the industry boils down to three major projects:

1. Alpha Efficiency
2. Centask – my short fling with launching a SaaS (Software as a Service) in productivity
3. Cult Of Traffic – an agency where my friends and I are combining efforts to provide the best services possible in digital marketing.

The first project lives on a bootstrap mentality, and the second is a failed project that still taught a few valuable lessons. The third one gave me a perspective on the collaborative complete working environment.

What I’ve learned from these enterprises I apply to my everyday life, and I’m going to share the most important lessons with you.

Lesson #1: A Startup is like a baby, it needs YOU to survive

No startup can survive without its founder breathing life into it & molding it into a successful company. If you want your company to thrive, you need to give it passion and dedication among (amidst) life’s chaos.

According to Statistic Brain, 25% of startups fail in their first year and 71% of businesses are no longer operating by year 10. So when launching a startup you know that odds are stacked up against you. If you are starting out a Silicon Valley type of company, odds are even worse.

Imagine your freelancing, your blog or your book writing as a startup. Remember how many people out there start projects and never bring them to fruition. The reason behind this is an overwhelming number of activities that one needs to master in order to be successful. In those early stage moments, the chances of success are as only as good as you are. Being a solo founder of Alpha Efficiency for 3 years made me realize how fragile business is. It was as strong as my commitment to it. If you are starting out with a partner, your startup will be only as good as the combined commitment and skills both of you possess.

Launching for the first couple of years reminds me of labor pains. The most of the work on early stage startup will yield the least amount of value in the terms of growth of your company, but probably the biggest reward will be the growth of you as a balanced person and as a company builder.

Lesson #2: Persistence Is Half The Success

Often startup founders don’t allow the necessary time for their company to grow. A big portion of that is due to the fact that community doesn’t give enough time for ideas to flourish. Everyone is so concerned with the accelerated growth and overnight success stories; Everyone is trying to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. But, those stories are brought to the very forefront, while the community forgets the failures and people who went bankrupt over them.

Bear in mind that the majority of “hip” startup founders are chasing pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. This is what has been advertised as the norm. All of a sudden, if your company doesn’t grow year after year in the same fashion like Slack does, then you’re not “worth it”, you’re not “hip”, and you’re definitely “not in”.

Take care of your cash flow, make sure that you’re making more than you’re spending, and you’ll be on the right track to building a company, with or without the investment funding.

Lesson #3: You Quickly Learn How To Be A Team Player

Perhaps one of the most difficult components in starting a company is finding a right partner. I’ve been blessed to have Darren, as so far, both of us are on the same playing field regarding our time investments, the general outlook for the company and the future of the business. If it wasn’t for this joint understanding and communication, This magazine wouldn’t exist.

The reality is that startup can almost never succeed as an effort from one single person. If you need to pay for everything out of your own pocket, then you’ll quickly go bankrupt. Therefore splitting this insane workload to two persons from the very beginning will help you in the long term.

Because the survival of the company relies on teamwork, you learn very quickly how to rely on the skills of others and supplement them with your own. I haven’t seen this accelerated hyper focus in the day-to-day work environment.

Lesson #4: Juggling Day Job and Startup builds character

Most of the startup founders want to go “all-in” and put everything on the line for the success of the company, however, the statistics confirm that most of the ventures fail, some of them quite likely during the first year of their operations. This leaves founders very vulnerable, to an extent where the lack of financial resources causes a lot of anxiety to the founders, reflecting poorly on performance.

Financial scarcity pushes people into a tunnel vision, which limits the perception of the reality of the founders. This is the very reason why you shouldn’t go “All-In” to pursue your company’s success.

For all this time I’ve managed to keep jobs, expand and grow my career, keeping up with projects from the clients and building Alpha Efficiency at the same time. Eventually, Alpha Efficiency itself helped me grow my career, land jobs and helped me seal freelancing deals. The monetary value behind this goes all the way to six digits.

Lesson #5: Doing a job of three people transforms your limits and perception

Not everything can be done professionally with highest standards. More often than not, good enough will settle it.

A lot of design work that was done for Alpha Efficiency was done by Darren. We could have hired a designer, but that didn’t have a financial justification at a time. Perhaps graphics weren’t perfect, but they were good enough!

Most of the time you will have to settle for good enough and doing the important things by yourself. This saves an awful lot of time, as you don’t have to waste time on recruiting people, then training and delegating.

Sometimes this means you’ll singlehandedly do a job of three people. Doing maintenance, production, and marketing all at once. This is a good investment for the future, as you will be able to know exactly what your business needs down the road, instead of wondering what are the tasks that your future employees should be handling. Often there is no better way to understand the value of somebody’s work, than when you do it yourself first.

Lesson #6: Smart Pivoting Ensures Survival

When I first started working on Alpha Efficiency it was just a blog, without a coherent topic, and it was focusing on lifehacks and productivity tips. Over the course of time, I’ve realized how repetitive this niche is, and later on, I’ve made a move towards insights. A lot of self-proclaimed experts were sharing tips and tricks, but not a lot of people out there shared insights and lessons learned in a manner that we showcase in the magazine. Darren and I also made a bold move in switching the format from unsustainable blogging to paid monthly subscription that moves us in the direction of sustainable income and focusing more of our life’s energy towards working on the magazine full time.

If we hadn’t pivoted, we wouldn’t be as excited about the project and wouldn’t be “out there”. Perhaps we might have even abandoned it, and moved on with our lives, without giving the project sufficient time to succeed.

Lesson #7: Having Fun Makes All The Difference

Knowing that you will spend a lot of time working “for free”, means that you really need to love and enjoy the idea behind your project. If you’re having fun while you are doing it, you won’t feel the project as a burden, and it will allow you to endure the financial hardships that may come along the way.

See startups are no picnic, and they aren’t a shortcut to insane wealth. There is an expectation that you will do something that others won’t, so you can enjoy things that others can’t, but all of that will be in vain if you aren’t having fun.

Lesson #8: The Best Reward Is The Money You Made Which Wasn’t “Given” To You

Over the course of last five years, Alpha Efficiency made a substantial amount of money. This income was nowhere near close to being a livable income, however, every dollar made was made “out of thin air”. This gave me a certain dose of self-confidence, where there was no “boss”, no company, handing me out a paycheck for my income. When you are solely responsible for the money made, or your team, then your outlook on money starts to change.

Lesson #9: Startups Advantage Lies In Agility

Because large companies have far more resources, it is imperative for them to make bigger wins. However, startups have the luxury of being small and agile. There are small gaps, areas that larger companies can’t afford to cover, that leaves breathing room for entrepreneurs to gather early traction and attack the industry by hyper-focusing on segments.

Larger organizations don’t have a “hack” mentality, because of the inherent inertia of employees and a lack of drive for breaking the barriers. Even if employees aren’t lazy per se, their commitment lies in 9 to 5, which is considered like a part-time job in startup culture. When you are in a startup, you tend to be “all in”. You are working even when you are not working because you are driven to succeed.

Applying these lessons to your daily life

Whether you are launching a company, already running one, or you’re just living your life, you can benefit from applying these lessons in your own life. Living a life like a startup is a different approach, and it’s not for everyone. But having a vision and a big payout at the end of the road makes all the difference.

When you assume a hacking mentality, nothing is impossible. Limits are shattered and all that lies before you is exponential growth curve, pushing you towards your own version of cloud nine.

See you there.

Brian Djordjevic
About The Author

Brian Dordevic

Bojan is Marketing Strategic Planner with a passion for all things digital. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or schedule a consultation call with him.

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