7 Things I Learned While Working On A Side Startup

Richard Fang

I spent a year working on my side project and here are all my learnings so far

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Danielle MacInnes / Unsplash

Since my college days, I have been involved in everything startups and took on various projects within the entrepreneur space.

Even though my first startup ended up in the graveyard, I learned a lot, especially on what not to do (e.g. I didn’t even have a vesting schedule with my other founders).

Since then, I have always had a keen eye for working on a new project. Ready to get my hands dirty again, I finally decided to work on a project after running into major problems around survey tools. This began my journey just before the pandemic hit the world earlier this year.

I have learned a lot working on a side startup whilst maintaining a full-time job so here are all my learnings so far on this journey:

Choose your co-founders wisely

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Stephanie Liverani / Unsplash

Honestly, this is one of the most important things to consider when working on a startup.

Many startups have failed due to bad partnerships caused by disputes with the founders.

If you’re keen on starting a project with some friends or colleagues, remember to vet them carefully and set out guidelines to ensure everyone is on the same page.

You should also (at least in my opinion) enjoy working with these people, especially since you’re most likely going to be sticking together for years.

Most importantly, make sure you have a founder’s agreement drafted out, especially if you plan to incorporate. Nothing looks worse on your books if an early founder leaves and takes a large chunk of equity with them.

Set a weekly or at least a bi-weekly cadence

Yes, it may sound pointless if you’re working together regularly, but you’d be surprised at how important setting up a cadence call is.

Not only can you review your product roadmap but also get direct feedback with the team on video or at least on voice.

Since running a weekly cadence, we’ve found that our productivity, especially sticking to timelines, have been more focused. Additionally, it is much easier to communicate certain issues on a call rather than on Slack or Whatsapp.

If you’re a business founder, get some technical knowledge

The worst thing you could do is set unrealistic timelines or, worse, come up with a mockup that is completely out of the question for an MVP.

Even if you don’t know how to code, it’s important as a business founder (like me) to learn how the product is being built and realistically, communicate and understand conversations with your technical co-founders.

Personally, for me, I know some front-end so I could assist with some of the ‘styling’ of our product. In the end, everything helps, and time is everything when launching a product.

Don’t launch an early access list without a planned timeline

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Productplan

This might be more personal, but I found that collecting email addresses early is great to get early feedback but not great if you don’t have your timelines defined.

People who sign up to early access lists anticipate a product launch, and unless you can continue driving the momentum towards a target date, you risk collecting interest and then leaving them disappointed.

In my opinion, make sure you have a defined timeline so those who sign up know what they’re getting themselves into.

This is especially important if you’re looking to collect some feedback and maintain a channel between your early users.

Be on the same page around full-time commitments

This is important to understand early on with your other co-founders.

It could be an awkward conversation, but it’s important to understand where your co-founder's heads are, especially when it’s time to go full-time.

This could be hitting a certain revenue goal, milestone, or if you can raise an early round.

By understanding this information early, you can plan ahead, especially if certain founders can start full-time earlier than others.

Have a united vision

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Matt Noble / Unsplash

What’s the point of working on a startup together if you don’t share the same vision?

Not only is picking the right co-founders important but also making sure everyone is aligned with one vision.

This is especially important when working towards a longer-term goal for the startup.

It continuously gets harder

Finally, you’re doing a startup because you’re most likely either passionate about the idea, entrepreneurship or you’re just sick of working for someone else.

However, no one ever said working on a startup is easy.

If you’re working on it part-time, this is the easiest part of the journey. Once you dig deeper and get your first users and revenue, you’re going to be more accountable especially if you go full-time.

This is why you should set up your foundation well and enjoy the safety net of working on a project part-time until you need to go full-time.

It’s always going to be an uphill battle from day one.

Summary

Launching a startup is tough, especially if you’re in it for the long term. Setting up priorities and the foundation early can mean many fewer headaches down the line, especially once business starts rolling in.

For me, since working on Yought, I have not only reinforced learnings from my previous venture but also uncovered new situations that I have not rolled into yet.

Even with a jumpy and uncertain economy, the most important thing to remember is startups that do well usually come from having great founders.

If we’ve learned one thing from funding so many startups, it’s that they succeed or fail based on the qualities of the founders. The economy has some effect, certainly, but as a predictor of success it’s rounding error compared to the founders. — Paul Graham

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