5 Lessons From a Startup

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by Cameron Alcorn August 14, 2014   Business

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

– Steve Jobs

So, you’re considering quitting your full time job and getting serious about that side-project? Before you do, here are some of the lessons I learned while starting up my digital agency.


1. You Will Work Long(er) Hours

If you thought quitting your old job would result in more free time, think again. Just because you’re your own boss doesn’t mean your “boss” will be any kinder to you. Did your boss expect you to work seven days a week during busy weeks? How about asking you to stay at work until well after midnight, even though you showed up at eight-o-clock in the morning? Well, don’t be surprised if it happens. Your startup is your baby, and sometimes it requires a little more care than you had originally imagined.

I’ve had a lot of nearly sleepless nights, trying to finish one more thing for a client’s website, or trying to make one more update to a project timeline, or trying to make one last effort to complete work before the rest of the world wakes up. You’ll probably find yourself in similar situations, but if it’s what you love, I guarantee that time will fly.


2. You Will Wear Many Hats

What hats? Oh, you know, manager, accountant, human resources, on top of whatever else you originally signed up for. Some of those hats will be a perfect fit, while others seem way too cumbersome and difficult to wear. However, on many occasions, you’ll find that you aren’t just the right person for a job, you’re the only person for a job.

Since I began my digital agency with my co-founder, I’ve learned about sales, marketing, accounting, management, and a huge list of other specialties far outside my original technology field. Some of these things I expected and some of these things I never saw coming, but in the end it’s made me a more well-rounded individual. So, one day, when you find yourself reviewing your startup’s balance sheet, when all you signed up for was app-development, or graphic design, or whatever your specialty is, don’t be surprised, but definitely put your all into it – it’s a learning experience unlike any other.


3. Starting Up Takes Time

However long you expect the “startup” phase to take, double it. Whether it’s establishing a brand, or setting up your company’s website, or becoming incorporated, you’ll find that it takes more time than you’d expect.

My first month of work with my business partner was mainly dedicated to setting up the company’s infrastructure and working through all the red tape (e.g. government paperwork, banking information, etc.). Even though we worked fast, there were still stumbling blocks, such as the Secretary of State office misspelling our names wrong (twice) on official articles and delaying our incorporation by a week. Regardless of how fast you work, starting up will still take time.


4. Payoff Comes Later

Motivation for being part of a startup should not just be financial gains, but you still need to make money to survive. Unlike before though, you’re not just providing for yourself, but for yourself and your new business. There will, no doubt, be some cost associated with running your business, even if you’re a web-based startup. So your client came through and followed up with that last payment? Good, now you can re-invest more money in your company!

After my agency completed it’s first few contracts, my business partner and I knew that we needed to invest in the business before putting money into our own pockets. This will take some discipline, but if you’re in it because you love what you do, you’ll find that it’s all worth it.


5. Personal Growth

The real-world experience you will gain while working for a startup is worth more than any paycheck could amount to. You will grow more personally and professionally than you could ever imagine. Whether your startup is a smashing success or a tremendous failure, you won’t come out the same person on the other side.

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Business professional by day, web developer by night, when I’m not creating solutions for my clients, I’m writing or creating meaningful content for the Web.