Exactly four years ago today, I founded a startup with my former coworker Eric Lu. Over the last four years, I've learned a lot and have made a ton of mistakes. I've also hired 40 people, met a lot of other founders, and formed closed bonds with investors and advisors, so I have watched and learned from their strengths and failures as well. It's impossible to summarize the tactical learnings (see all other articles on this blog), but I do notice some consistent takeaways from what's gone well and not well for me through the ups and downs.
Content made on Kapwing
Kapwing is not a Unicorn yet, but we have built a multi-million dollar business nearing profitability and raised >$12 Million dollars. To celebrate the 4-year anniversary of our company, I wanted to reflect on my learnings and advice for other entrepreneurs starting down the winding startup road.
Here's my ten tips to success for founders just starting out:
- Listen to the market. At the end of a day, only one thing matters for your business: customers. Deliver value first. If you aren't delivering value, shift.
- Take care of the people that matter to you. Relationships weaken when you don't care for them. That applies to your mom, your friends who you don't make time for while you're working hard, your cofounder, and your reports. Remember birthdays, text back, say thank you, make time for chit-chat.
- DO. Act. A tendency towards action forces you forward and helps you escape analysis paralysis. Speed is essential, and in most cases you will learn more by doing than by thinking. When you're overwhelmed, anxious, and desperate, make a list, then check through tasks one by one. Small wins today give you the confidence to confront the big problems tomorrow.
- Learn to write and speak. These two hard skills benefit anyone in a leadership position. Sharing your own story – verbally and in writing – will earn you credibility, supporters, followers, and allies. Blog posts and videos are the artifacts of your mission and leadership. Tactically, they help with sales, fundraising, and recruiting.
- Have fun along the way! Play, celebrate, and enjoy the moment. YOLO. You'll be happier, healthier, and more creative if you take yourself less seriously and let your hair down.
- Spend time with the people you admire. Befriend people with talented minds, good character, passion, expertise, and weird genius, because those are the people you'll become more similar to.
- Embrace healthy debate. Defend and live by your values, but change your opinions frequently. Listen to logic, gather data, get curious, and commit to learning from every discussion. Ask for feedback from intelligent people.
- Keep meeting new people. Loose ties and acquaintances will bring random opportunities, unexpected ideas, and fresh perspectives to your life. Extroverts have an advantage.
- Dream bigger. Extend your vision beyond the horizon, beyond what’s reasonably possible today. What would the future look like if you weren’t afraid and resources were unlimited? If you can keep dreaming bigger, people will admire and follow you. Limited vision means limited impact.
- No matter what, it will all be alright. You are perfect because you are human, and that is enough. Starting something new brings so many highs and lows, terrific failures and wins, and the full spectrum of feels. Embrace the rollercoaster, feel things all the way through, and know that on the other side the universe will still exist and you will be alive and well. Start from a spirit of abundance: security, control, and approval that you find internally.
Cheers to four years of empowering creators at Kapwing! So thrilled to think about the next four years ahead. Thanks to everyone who has followed along and supported us through the journey.