This week I had the opportunity to hear TechStars London programme manager Tak Lo speak about his experience and work to date. I especially enjoyed hearing about his learnings from his days in the US military and his experience of being a failed entrepreneur (the evening was about what entrepreneurs needed to know in the first 3 years).
The TechStars team are lucky to have him on their side. Here’s what I took away:
1. Scratch your own itch: the first startup he built was in the field of travel, about which he knew not much but had great ideas. The startup tanked. You’re likely to have most success when you build something in an industry whose problems you’re familiar with. Not always, but mostly.
2. Find a team that can guide you against getting blocked by blind spots. Find the unknown unknowns. To quote Donald Rumsfeld:
Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
3. Find mentors who can listen to you and advise you, both personally and professionally. You’ll probably need both. This could be a spouse or partner in your personal life, and someone with years of experience in what you do professionally.
4. Try and fail as a team; try not to lose the institutional knowledge you build. Think about the OODA loop.
5. Have grit; don’t give up till you have to. It will not be easy and you’ll feel like throwing in the towel more than once. Think about babies, who learn through doing. Keep doing, keep learning, and move ahead.
6. Know your boundaries. Know when you need to stop accruing personal debt (with friends and family you will probably not see for months) and financial debt (what is the absolute maximum you can draw on your overdraft or other loans before you start drowning in debt?)