What I learned from a startup incubator

April 11, 2023

I lost two years on my first failed SaaS.

Years later I crossed $61k MRR, solo.

In between those periods I worked within a start-up incubator.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There are plenty of really smart people who never make it as an entrepreneur.

  • Mindset is more often valuable here than brains.

  • There are plenty of less-than-bright people that crush it as entrepreneurs.

  • I promise you have what it takes, no matter how average you think you are.

  • We all start out as impostors, and we remain impostors as long as we push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

  • This should be viewed as a positive, as it is a huge motivator and growth driver.

  • We are all just figuring it out as we go.

  • Don’t let others fool you into thinking they have all the answers. There’s no right or wrong way to run a startup; there’s just what works and what doesn’t.

  • What works to get traction in one startup is not necessarily going to work for another.

  • Take tactical advice only as inspiration, not as gospel. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is invaluable. Learn them and pay attention to them.

  • Just because someone else enjoys building in public or waking at 4 am doesn’t mean you need to force yourself to do the same if it doesn’t suit you.

  • In many cases, raising money doesn’t make things any easier. Often it complicates things.

  • Make sure you’re very clear on why you need to raise money, if you’re considering it.

  • Within a startup, team dynamics are critical.

  • Likability and determination matter more to individual success more than skillset.

  • The more people involved in a startup, the less productive they each are.

  • On a team of 3, you can’t slack off without it being noticed.

  • One person says, “I don’t know how to do that,” while another says, “I’ll figure it out.” Who would you rather work with? Who would you rather be?

  • Often the “best” engineers are the least effective in an early-stage start-up.

  • You want scrappy and good enough - not polished and ready for scale.

  • You don’t have to work 20 hour days, 7 days a week to be successful.

  • Making smarter, faster decisions is better than working more hours.

  • People perform better when they’re given ownership, especially in the early stages of a startup where they can have the biggest impact.

  • Simple ideas are often better than big ideas.

  • They’re easier to execute, easier to explain, and take less time to take to market.

  • People spend a lot of time on things that don’t matter.

  • Don’t fall into the busywork trap. Focus on what will move the needle. Eliminate the rest.

  • If you know the right people, they can help you leap-frog years ahead of where you’d otherwise be.

  • Be helpful, be kind, and make friends.

  • Most startups fail, so chances are you’ll have some failures too. Now let’s stop calling them failures, because they aren’t. They’re typically a prerequisite to success.

Keep. Going.

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