How to Start My Own Company

Here are some useful tips from one of Octobot's co-founders

Octobot cofounders - how to start my own company

Recently, I was a speaker at the University of Minnesota, where I was invited to share my experience as a tech entrepreneur, and the process of  starting my own company: Octobot, a software development firm that I and  my two co-founders have been managing for 9+ years.

While working on my talk for the students, I relived all the processes  with my partners, Luciano and Juan. I thought about what I learned, which decisions were right and which ones I wish I’d done differently, and things it would have been helpful to know at the start. If you’re looking for this kind of advice, this is not Start your own business for dummies, but I hope it’s a useful set of tips to help you succeed.

A Little Bit of History

Today I am Octobot’s CEO, but back in 2012 I was a recent computer science graduate  without a clear  idea of how to start my own company. But I did have two friends who shared a vision:  to create a workplace we would want to work in. Before creating our current company, we tried two other business ideas that failed. And here is the first piece of advice: look at failures as steps toward success. These first two ideas weren’t as good as we thought – which can be frustrating – but they helped us polish our eventual project and get closer to the idea that eventually became Octobot.

Another good piece of business owner advice is that will and time are  key ingredients . My partners and I didn’t have any external investments, but we had big ideas and really wanted to see them come to life. We started defining our own way of doing things and, later, started presenting it to the world. We wanted to be different from other more traditional and established companies that were still using old technologies and practices, which were far from the ones being pushed by the startup ecosystem in Silicon Valley.  

The first client came fast, since I used to work as a freelance programmer for a few years prior. This first partnership allowed us to quickly test our value proposition  and adapt accordingly. At first, we saved all the earnings that we made and kept our daily jobs. Later, the money we saved allowed us to take the jump from moonlighting to working full-time in our own business. An important thing I learned from this step is that you have to be in it for the long run, because being an entrepreneur – especially at the beginning – is not the best idea if you are focused on short-term success. Make plans and practice patience, and things will come together.

Some Fundamental Business Owner Advice

Fail fast, succeed faster

One of the biggest risks of this journey – that I definitely didn’t know when I decided to start my own company – is falling in love with your idea. You shouldn’t do that. Love is blind and you, as an entrepreneur, need to be able to see any potential risks or flaws that your idea may have. Ask yourself these questions:

Will my product have customers? Are people willing to buy it?

Can the user figure out how to use the product?

Can we build it; is it feasible?

Does this solution work from a business perspective? What’s its business model?

The goal with this line of questioning is making sure your idea will find a buying market. Don’t assume people are going to like it as much as you do; your customers are not you. This is something I recently read as advice from AirBnb’s CEO Brian Chesky as well. The more you reflect upon your ideas, the more bulletproof they will become.

Have a clear focus

When we talk about a business idea, I mean just one business idea. I don’t recommend trying to develop more than one idea at a time, especially when you’re just getting started as an entrepreneur. At the beginning, you don’t have many resources. Therefore, you need to optimize the resources you do have in order to increase your chances of success.

Those resources can be time, money, energy, etc. Use them wisely! 

Partner with the right people

Find a partner that complements your set of skills. In my experience, working with two business partners was easier since we relied on each other and shared the burden. Also, when you have different points of view, the conversation is richer, allowing for more fruitful ideas. This is a fundamental part of being an entrepreneur. Rover’s co-Founder, Philip Kimmey, recently mentioned this in our podcast OctoTalks. If you are into listening more than reading, I recommend his episode on Spotify. In Octobot’s case, although my co-founders and I are different, we will always put what’s best for Octobot first. 

It is also important to define owners. I am the CEO, and my business partners are COO and CTO. Each one of us is the final thought responsible for specific goals within our company. This means we’ll discuss things through and share our views, but at the end of the day, we need to have a consensus.

Look for mentoring

Besides a solid side by side group, it’s always a good idea to have mentors. Go after them! Their experiences and networks are invaluable resources.

In addition, as they are not part of the company’s daily challenges, they may provide a fresher view. This is an excellent way to get business owner advice from someone who has differing experience.

Don’t look for short term outcomes

If your goal is to make money fast, get a job. To succeed in the entrepreneurial path, you will need to make sacrifices, especially at the beginning. But when you succeed, the rewards can be huge!

As I mentioned before, in the beginning of Octobot, we made the strict decision of not spending any of the dollars we made. That meant working many hours after our day jobs, and during the weekends. However, a few months later, these savings allowed us to start dedicating ourselves fully to the company in a secure, solid way. When we took the jump, we were better positioned for doing so. And since then, we never went back to our 9-to-5 jobs.

Don’t avoid difficult decisions

As a founder, you are in charge of the ship. This is super fun when things are going well and everything is a success! However, it’s still true when you are facing periods of uncertainty and crisis. So, even though it is tough, you need to be able to make  difficult calls. Firing people, changing focuses, giving hard feedback, saying no –  the list goes on. If you don’t make these decisions, unfortunately, no one else will make them for you. And often your business’ health will depend on them.

Transform setbacks into opportunities

I believe it’s vital to take advantage of the moments of crisis for pivoting and exploring new ways of doing things. Who knows – from these experiments you could end up taking your business to a whole new level! This doesn’t mean you’ll do things impulsively or without  thought and planning. But the important attitude, in my opinion, is to use complicated situations as a trampoline to go after innovative solutions for the problems you’re facing.

Share your work

I love saying that ideas are worthless; it’s execution that matters. That’s why I’m very against the concept of hiding your great idea in the dark. Many people avoid talking because they are motivated by the fear of having their ideas stolen. Big mistake. When we have a new idea, the first thing we need to do is share it with others. Pitch it. Ask for feedback. Inspire other people to join you. And, of course, make it a reality. 

Do it – especially if you are still young

As I said to the University students that listened to my presentation in Minnesota, when you are young, responsibilities are generally smaller. Therefore, risks can be easier to take. If you are a student or recent graduate, take advantage of this moment and go try out your big ideas! It’s never going to be as easy as it is now. I’m happy to have decided to start my own company at that time.

Don’t let this be a setback for you if your college years are already far away. If you have been thinking about taking this path for a while, start now; you will always be making more progress than the time spent doubting yourself. Take my previous advice and do it safely and with a clear plan!

Have fun

Last, but not least, enjoy the journey. Maybe it’s a cliché  , but it’s true. You are in control. So please, love every bit of it!

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