Talented and impressively passionate entrepreneur and CEO of Tonsser, Peter Holm has written this piece on the pitfalls of entrepreneurship - a couple of do's and don'ts, he thinks other entrepreneurs ought to know.
A couple of months ago I stumbled upon an interesting list. Three months after integrating job descriptions to profiles, Tinder could now rank which professions were getting the most right-swipes. No major surprises as number 1 was Pilot, #3 Firefighter, #4 Doctor and #5 TV/Radio personality. But in second place as most attractive job when asking single ladies Entrepreneur pops up. (Some of these girls should seriously have a talk with my girlfriend)
But the list pretty much sums up how popular it has become being an entrepreneur, founder or part of a startup today.
And we can all agree how positive this development is. The opportunism, hard work, creativity, jobs and great products the startup ecosystems add to society are priceless.
(proudly) being part of the very promising Copenhagen startup scene for three years time, I have also learned how the entrepreneurial popularity has had its repercussions. Just like in any other booming and attractive market, the startups and entrepreneurs must now also learn to navigate in a growing jungle of distractions, if they are to become a succesful lasting company:
- Most entrepreneurs are inexperienced (like Simon and myself) when they start their company. You are most likely also fairly young, have a limited set of specific capabilities, know nothing about either tech or law and most likely zero (you might think you do) about actually building a high-octane company. Getting the right advisors onboard is arguably the most influential move we have made at Tonsser. Teaming up with a customized angel team led by Kasper Hulthin (Podio, Peakon) who were experienced entrepreneurs, honest, direct and most of all likeminded, has meant the World to us. It provided us with a learning framework. I’m not here to tell you about the importance of advisors, but how do you avoid the wrong and identify the right advisors? Well, the guys you want to advise you, likely see themselves as either entrepreneurs or angels. They do their own thing which they believe in, they don’t make a living out of giving advice. Simply stay away from that growing chunk of self-declared startup mentors, people who tend to have a long list of titles in different companies and no need to say those who have never started their own company. Personally, I would also avoid “celebrity advisors” early on, as they tend to have too many cases to really give you the attention and deep diving sessions you need.
- When Tonsser was founded in early 2014, we had a choice to make. From where do we want to build our company? Actually, it was a pretty easy decision as it would be again today — from our own place. We found a classic/cliche basement two months later with a dirty toilet and a questionable indoor climate, but it was our own from where we could build our product and culture (the far most undervalued asset in a startup) — and above anything simply have focus. At this time we were two founders, two devs and one intern. I’m not against co-working spaces, especially when you are very early and need to meet team members, get feedback and initial traction, but while risking getting every co-working space in the community on my back, I would get out when you have assembled a team of max 4–5 guys. There are simply too many distractions at this time for you to have focus with friday bars, open breakfast, coffee chats, noise and ping pong tournaments. Its all very cool, fun and social, but entrepreneurship is not a lifestyle, it’s an occupation you possess en route to building a real company. Unless you realize that and prioritize your time, you will never succeed.
- Arguably the most common error in early stage startups is misunderstanding public coverage. Almost all entrepreneurs are spending time writing blog posts (what I’m doing right now), getting in tech news, arranging meet ups or building followers on social media. Because we are all so damn cool and have such a unique knowledge to teach anyone else. I’m not saying any of these are wrong to spend time on, but there’s a question you have to ask yourself whenever you are prioritizing it: Am I doing this for the company or for my own glorified ego? When we got in the press the first couple of times, it meant the team had a moral boost and to some degree added credibility to our case. But to be honest it was basically just an ego boost. So make sure to see the spotlight for what it is and not relating it to success. Use it strategically to conquer market share, add credibility to your project and to motivate your team.
Other distractions you should be careful of not getting sucked into:
- Inbound email invitations to meetings which contains the sentence “Maybe there could be some synergy..”. Then you know the person has no plan and no idea what you are going to talk about.
- Networking meetings and events, unless you are hiring, fundraising or meeting potential customers.
- (Most) Startup conferences and award shows.
- Time consuming networking groups with irrelevant people. (Would always prioritize having a few highly relevant guys around me over having a big network of people you don’t really know or maintain)
It’s important for me to wrap up by saying that I’m super honored and proud of being part of the startup and tech scene in the Nordics. Constantly being impressed by the level of smartness and drive people possess in the ecosystem. But in order to succeed we must all learn how to navigate the distractions and avoid pitfalls of being popular in order to build succesful companies.
That is what we are here to do.