Lesson #2: It's a roller coaster ride ( as I mentioned in one of my earlier posts).
As exciting as the last 4 years have been ( getting from an idea to 9 million users, to become the largest language learning website), its not linear progress. It might look that way from the outside but it definitely is not that way.
There are lots of ups and down. One day seems down in the dumps, and the next day you could be on a high.
If you work in a regular job at a bigger company and then start a company, this is a huge change and stressful. While there are changes in your job as say an employee at Microsoft, the number of variables that can change and frequency is different. As a startup founder, there are a lot of variables - competition, hiring, funding, partnerships, sales, marketing, legal, pr and each of them can have big impact on you.... There is nothing you can do about that - it just is, so just deal with it well.
Your trajectory as a startup could change based on single event, news article, funding event etc. This is why its so exciting to be a startup. One of my friends who had started a company a year ago, had been working on the site for a while. Last week, they had a blowout event and got picked up on WSJ, Forbes, TV coverage and literally viewed by hundreds of thousands of users. Check it out- Zediva
The lesson I took away is that in a startup everyday you should keep trying to move forward ( even if its two steps foward, one back), try different things and hope that you catch some breaks.
The corollary here is that you should not give up too soon. I read that many of the gold miners in the California gold rush gave up when they were only a feet away from finding gold, after working really hard to get to that point. Many a startup's best moments have come after some dark moments.
Thought I would put together a top lessons learned over the past 4 years at Livemocha. I tried to pick ones that are big in the long run and write this over a series of posts.
#1 Passion: When starting a company, pick a problem that you are passionate about solving.
Seems really straightforward but not so much in practice when you look at how many startups get started as groupon clones. The goal of starting a company should not be to build something that's attractive to VC's or have google acquire you.
For a long time, I was enamored ( like many people) by the idea of starting a company. Over the past years, I realized that are lots of ups and downs in a startup. You make personal sacrifices - My daughter and wife barely saw me for the first year of Livemocha. It's great if you eventually build a huge business but what will keep you going during your low moments (esp. early on) is if you really believe that you are solving a problem that you believe should be solved.
In some ways you are an early explorer like Columbus who cared passionately about finding a new place. You may not find it or make much money of it but that's not the main focus of that journey. If you are passionate, it will show in the conversations to future employees, customers, investors, press etc. and it makes a huge difference.
You are not going to start more than a few companies in your lifetime. If you are going to put yourself through a bunch of crazy stuff and try to succeed against tough odds, do it for a product you care about passionately.