I’ve spent that last 15 years learning lessons. Sure, I built a payment platform from scratch that now has over 10 million members worldwide, but this didn’t happen magically. It came with a high price and many hard startup lessons learned.
If you are at the helm of a startup, and are just beginning your journey, you might be in need of a reality check. You are fresh-faced, bushy-tailed and extremely optimistic, and that kind of positive outlook is essential for the motivation needed to put in countless hours and fuel your boundless energy. But there are some startup lessons you can learn vicariously through me, and every other person who started their own company before you. You will inevitably learn a lot of these lessons on your own, the hard way – like the rest of us, but at least you will be somewhat prepared.
True Friendships vs. Bad Decisions
I know who my real friends are. My real friends are the ones who stuck it out with me through all of the trials and tribulations I experienced in my adventures in payment processing. Some of them (still) work for me, and have been since I opened shop in 2004. Unfortunately, you will not know who your real friends are until after you have resurfaced from a squall of challenges, both unforeseen and seemingly insurmountable. These people will be the ones left in the lifeboat with you.
There are some people whom I thought were my friends, but they turned out to be of the fair weather variety. As soon as things got stormy, they jumped ship. Others turned out to be a lot of trouble, and cost me a good deal of money, as well as my reputation – to a certain extent. This type of “friend” is friendly at the start, but are really only there to help themselves at your expense.
You will meet people like this, and may even have a few in your life right now. Just expect that not everyone will stick by you through your startup journey.
Credentials vs. Aptitude
One major startup lesson I learned is that aptitude can carry more value than credentials. We live in a society that places a high premium on university degrees and specialized training. This is a good thing, but a degree does not always translate into skills. On my team, there are many people who have showed an aptitude for one field or another but did not have the credential to show for it. If this happens in your own company, don’t sweat the lack of credentials. Take a risk, and see what they can do. There is always time to get formal training while using the position to practice.
If you pass up on an employee who has a real passion and skill for a role in the company, be it business development, web design or team leadership, you might come to regret it if you hire the person with the fancy degree and no drive. People with aptitude will work harder for you because they are grateful for the opportunity to grow, and have no sense of entitlement.
Some Stay While Others Move On
The sooner you accept this, the better. I am regularly acquainted with this startup lesson as I have seen many people move on, and it no longer surprises me. This is the reality of running a company. The people who are really committed to your vision will stay to grow your company and their potential. Those who do not share your passion will eventually move on to find their own niche somewhere else. But as a leader, it’s up to you to foster your passion in others, and give them a reason to stay.
Reward Those Who Stay
Take a good look at the people working for your startup company. See anyone who has been there since the beginning? These types of people are rare in a world where jobs are as disposable a Tim Horton’s coffee cup. If there is one startup lesson to take with you, it’s to reward the people who stayed the course and helped you build your company up to where it is today. They will reward you back for it in productivity and renewed enthusiasm.