5 Startup Lessons Learned From the Founder of Setnight and Pinerly

by Rick Kats | Startups

setNight is approaching its one year anniversary. I guess it’s true… time flies when you’re having fun (by fun I mean sleepless nights and no days off). In light of our anniversary, I wanted to share 5 great lessons that I’ve learned so far.

1. Hide your excuses in your back pocket and start figuring it out… right away. I’m not a VC yet, and yet I still manage to hear at least two “new” ideas a day. With each, there are obstacles and so many different ways to execute. If you’re still in the idea stage, start now! The sooner you start, the faster you can launch to understand usage trends and find your market fit.

Startups will never play out like a 2 hour movie so it’s important to stay lean, launch fast, morph your idea, and persevere. If you’re past the idea stage, then always remember, that as CEO, your most important role is to build a great product and finding your market fit before running out of money.

2. If you think you’re working hard enough, stop whining and work harder! There are opportunities all around you. Be the first to get to work, don’t take lunches, be the last to leave, and, most importantly, reach out to people that you think know better than you. There is always something to be done, so if your team thinks otherwise… head straight back to the drawing board and don’t go to sleep until you’ve figured out a better plan, market, and found a new set of things to do.

You’re an entrepreneur; respect the hustle and figure it out! For example, at setNight we’ve built up an extremely motivated culture and know that we could out-work anybody.

3. Don’t depend on anything; no one is here to hand-hold your success. It’s become cliché to hear first-time entrepreneurs believe that without being a part of an incubator they will not succeed. Let’s be realistic; no one is here to hold your hand! People want bright and determined hustlers. Individuals that will figure it out!

You’re bootstrapped? So are most other startups. Shake more hands, write articles, learn, and just don’t stop working. Can’t get users? It’s not easy, but you should aim to understand who your users are and reach out to them: make videos, hit the streets, ask people what they want, add metrics, and continue to understand your fit. Your hunger and necessity to move forward and get your start-up off the ground is what differentiates an OK team from one with a vision who will out-work, out-last, and get a grasp of the market before running out of money.

4. Understand your market through measurement and metrics. Acquiring users who love your product gives it meaning, helps define your vision, and most importantly, helps you learn who your demographic is. Jumping into heavy marketing prior to understanding who your users are is as useless as throwing money into the air and hoping that by the time it hits the floor it will replicate into millions.

Start by appealing to few and you might get luckier in appealing to the masses. How do you know they like you? Measure whatever you can: time on the platform, average clicks, return rate, etc. This helps you understand what needs improvement to change your layout, indicate a clearer value, create a stronger call-to-action. Ultimately, traction – your qualified evidence that you’ve found and fulfilled a market need – trumps everything and shows your path towards finding people that want what you’ve made.

5. Always remember that you are striving towards greatness. The transition between having no influence to making a difference in the world is probably the hardest. “You’re nobody until somebody loves you” and the only way to get somebody to love you is by persevering. In the grand scheme of things, it all comes down to the quality of the things you produce and the certainty of knowing that you’re always moving forward.

At one point, I lived by the quote “Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal” – E. Joseph Cossman, and it has now progressed to: “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success” – Biz Stone.  That’s because, at this point, starting and staying on track is second nature and it has become a matter of continuous drive, passion, and determination that will inevitably lead to our success.

There is a lot more to be said, but this is a good start. All in all, it’s a matter of focusing on things that matter, silencing the rest, persevering through the bad and creating beautiful things that people want. Period. As Eric Turner puts it in the song Written in the Stars: “you just gotta keep screaming till they hear you out.”

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