4 things I learnt in 4 months of being a founder
mean-bean is still in its infancy, with the brand in its current shape less than three months old- still shifting, changing and hustling-, but I am one week away from closing in on four months of being a founder.
In the past weeks I spoke more and more to baby founders- I can call them that now, I’m a goddamn veteran- and as I unconsciously started becoming a pseudo-mentor to them, I started realizing what a journey these past four months have been, how much I’ve learnt and how much I can already share with those around me. I’ve made plenty of rookie mistakes, it’s been a rollercoaster- and this is why, just one step ahead from being a complete beginner, I feel like it is my duty to share what I’ve learnt so far.
I am declaring it a tradition, starting today, to share these periodic updates- both to track my and mean-bean’s own journey, and to provide just another data point for people following in our footsteps.
Coming from a completely non-startup environment- I’m a fluffy artistic minded academic, with passions ranging so heavily on the spectrum no one else understands how things click in my mind at all times- becoming a part of this has been challenging. I would say that starting out on this path during Covid-times is both a blessing and a curse: it’s allowed me to speak to people all the way across the world since day 0, but it also means my startup experience is extremely isolating. I didn’t have industry connections, or startup connections, or friends that went on this path, I didn’t have anyone to share this with. I found myself alone with a laptop and an entire world out there, trying to figure out where to even start.
Getting started is a hustle. But here’s what I figured out so far:
1. The discovery phase never ends
I spent the first month just talking to people- learning how to listen, how to be a fly on the wall in someone else’s story. I spoke to dozens of people, and at the end of the month, I knew what to build- or so I thought. What I’m building changed a bunch of times since, and that is because discovery never ended. I had taken a tech break for the second month, but after that, I’ve been speaking consistently to people on a weekly basis- at least four to five interviews, informal chats, never-ending slack, reddit, product hunt, indie hackers, every-platform-on-planet-earth chatting. People will guide you at every stage- and in a startup, there’s a heck load of guiding, it all changes weekly.
join founder and product management slack communities, stalk people on Linkedin, look into the circles where your potential customers spend their online time, and converse- don’t market, don’t try to sell, don’t ask people if you want what you’re selling. Just speak, and listen to people’s problems- everyone wants to share their problems.
2. Founder besties are the only reason you’re still sane
Find them- find your founder besties, because this is not a road you want to go down alone. I am only now entering a stage where I’m looking for formal support systems (mentors, funding, experts etc). I wouldn’t have made it through my first four months without these guys- you know who you are. We’re progressing through stages together, we’ve had our five thousand mental breakdowns together, and hell I appreciate their values and what they’re building, and the fact that I believe in them and they believe in me is the only thing that’s kept me going. These informal connections are vital- they’re closer to who you are, who you want to be and what you’re outpouring into this new company you’re bringing into the world.
YC startup school is a good place to look for besties.
3. Your job as a founder is to inspire, full period.
It’s been a rollercoaster, as I said. As an interdisciplinary, half-techie, half-hell-knows-everything-else founder, it took me… well, four months to find my voice. It is easy to get sidetracked, easy to get stuck into building tech, easy to stop believing in yourself. It is hard to accept your limits, to see your golden-sparkly-shining strengths, to picture how exactly are you going to build a new world. It is hard to rip your chest open and put yourself out there- the hardest.
Once you go down this path, you are the brand. And whilst there are so many things you can do, want to do or know how to do (heck yeah I can spend 3 years and bring a consumer electronics product to market on my own), your most important job as a founder is to inspire- to open up your heart and mind to the world, and let energy outpour from you; to make connections, to spread ideas, to fiercely drive the mission of your startup into the world. You cannot do this alone- and you shouldn’t. Your job is to bring this to the world, and let the world snowball this seed you’ve planted into something you cannot even imagine.
Make people believe in you- no one cares about your product, or about your cool tech. But they care about you, on a human, raw and personal level. People invest in people- you need to spark their creativity, make them feel. This is your job as a founder. You’ll get to do everything else, but they come second.
Yes, I am still learning how to master this and own myself- we grow into our own shoes along our brand.
don’t build tech when you just start- can you show a pretty picture of tech? What you need is market validation, traction, a brand, identity, support. Focus on people. People are your full time job.
Once you go down the rabbit hole, you must leave shame and fears behind. You’re alone, sans a support system- ae, no school or established institution, or anything of the formal kind, especially in your first months- you’re out in deep waters and you need to learn how to swim. You’re going to have to elbow your way into the current system so- you guessed it- so you can change and disrupt it from bottom up. You need to create your own world- literally from scratch. From where there was just a kid dreaming of changing the world someday, now you’re here, and doing it, with no prior foundation and with no help.
So when this happens, you cannot have any shame anymore- it is up to you, whatever happens from now on, it is on you and you alone. You’ll have to test multiple leads, ecosystems, ways of addressing people- you’ll have to iterate a lot, you’ll have to make big splashes, make a lot of noise, but also know when to be quiet and listen, you’ll have to change, but you’ll also have to know when to stand your ground fiercely; you’ll have to be patient, but you’ll also need to know when to jump. You’ll have to put yourself out there without flinching.
You’ll have people telling you you cannot do things- hell sometimes you’ll even realize the tech industry is slightly sexist and for the first time in your life you’ll understand you’re a girl; you’ll understand time and time again you know nothing, and you’ll doubt your ability or strength to do this (aren’t there more suitable people than me to do this? Am I really the one?). So you need balls- balls to power through your own mental downfalls and the ones others put you through along this journey. You need balls to fail- the small fails that come weekly, and the impending fear that you’ll fail altogether. You need balls to create a new world- it is terrifying, but who else is going to do it if not yourself?
What I learnt is that I cannot wallow, I cannot waddle, I cannot flinch. I cannot be afraid of making mistakes- if you’re going to do this, you have to be full on, drive straight through fearlessly, adapt and become at every single stage of it.
this is about you as much as it is about your startup- if you wanted it to not be about you, you would’ve joined one of the existing systems, but here you are, getting ready to walk your own road and build your own world.
I would like to end by extending my support/ brainstorming power/ resources to anyone that needs it. No shame- if you need to speak I’m here, as a just-one-step-ahead mentor and always as a friend.
– Andreea, founder of mean-bean
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