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David's Start-Up Advice

David shares his top ten tips for success.

By David Murray

I feel like I should be writing about the ridiculous gag gift strap-on that I bought for Hermione's birthday party and, to my surprise, witnessed her put on and parade around for all to see. But I think that whole situation speaks for itself -- it was a funny, priceless moment of entrepreneurs goofing off, and in a place where work is almost constant, having a good time like that was well worth it. And that's all I'm going to say about that!

So here's what's really on my mind right now: I read an article the other day that said something that's been resonating with me for every day since: "The default state of your start-up is failure, and the only one that can change that is you." (Source here.) Honestly, I have a big fear of failure and a fear of letting other people down, and it's the reason why I've been so resistant to look outside myself for help. I've kept from aggressively seeking funding. (I'll admit I've looked into it and asked around a bit, but then when I don't feel an immediate sense of excitement or interest, I tell myself I don't need it and go at it alone.) I've been really stubborn. But when I think about what my best moments with GoalSponsors have been (and worst, to be honest, haha), it's been when I've reached out to interact with other people for help.

Which brings me to Appcelerator. I've been really fortunate to have the help of this great company to build my business, GoalSponsors. I'm sitting in their office right now and continue to work with them to develop my app, and it all started literally with a cold email that I sent to their marketing team. I didn't know anyone there, and I was just hoping someone would take interest and respond. Thankfully, they did, and I'm eternally grateful for that!

But for every cold email I send that gets a response, about 10 go completely without a reply. And I'll be the first to say I have not replied to emails before, because I knew that replying would do more damage than simply ignoring, but being on the other side, I must say it hurts to get no response. Each email I send that doesn't get a reply feels like a failure, over and over again. Welcome to start-ups.I'm learning the hard way, for sure. Let me share some lessons to hopefully save the trouble for those who are thinking about taking the plunge...

1. Get a cofounder. If I had to do this whole thing over again, I would get a cofounder that I loved being around (in and out of the workplace). Because at times like this, where I feel like I'm trying to move a mountain by myself, having someone around to keep me afloat would be priceless. Even today I wish I had one. My next start-up won't have a single founder.

2. Fake it till you make it. I've seen time and time again entrepreneurs over-inflate their numbers, oversell what they really have to offer, and even blatantly lie (e.g. "our traffic is totally organic" when it's not), and I've always thought it was unethical. But I've realized that "hustling" is really what most of the effective entrepreneurs are best at. There's a way to do it without lying, and there's a way to do it that's ethical. If you can't sell what you're offering, nobody will want to buy it... and everyone has to start somewhere.

3. Have fun. I've been missing out on this at the workplace. I do it on nights and weekends, but the place where I'm spending most of my time is the place where I'm lacking fun the most, even though I do enjoy programming. I'll admit that doing the same thing for 60 hours a week, even if you love it, is too much.

4. Stay connected with others. Even though I work around other people, I've been generally keeping to myself. I haven't reached out to other people, even if it's just for lunch, because I don't want to get distracted and thus be unproductive. I've been getting feedback from customers and regularly reach out to them to make sure they're happy, but my lack of interaction with others, whether they are other entrepreneurs or investors, has left me still to fend for myself when I hit a tough roadblock.5. Know why you're doing it. It's amazing how easily we lie to ourselves -- in fact, it's basically programmed into us at birth. We rationalize why we are happy with what we have in our lives, whether it is our job, our house, our spouse, or our friends. But we need to know and feel in the deepest place of our hearts why we have something and be honest with ourselves. Not everyone is Mother Teresa, so if helping the world 24/7 isn't something that resonates for you, that's OK. Be passionate doing something that does resonate for you, whether it be painting, throwing parties, or eating cake.

6. Do what you love, but don't let the rest of your life fall by the wayside. If you love eating cake, then by all means, eat cake. But keep the rest of yourself in check or you won't be eating cake for very long! Life was not meant to be a one-track record -- make use of what you've got. If you're reading this blog you already have more than about half of the world, so take up the opportunities you have!

7. Be thankful for what you have. Every day of start-up life has a never-ending list of things that go wrong -- conversion rates aren't as high as they could be, customers aren't staying around as long as expected, someone wants to delete their account and won't tell you why -- but for each of those things that's going wrong, you have things that are going right (otherwise you wouldn't still be doing it). People are spending money, people write to tell you how much they love your app. You see people losing over 10 lbs within a couple weeks. Things like this make it worth it. This is why I keep a note by my bed that just says "3 things I’m grateful for."

8. It's OK to fail. This is one of the hardest lessons to learn, even in Silicon Valley where failure is embraced arguably more than anywhere else on the planet. All failures fade with time and are eventually forgotten, but usually their lessons are not. The world does not end. Brains don't explode. Angels don't lose their wings. Life goes on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

9. Expect haters, doubters, and the like. In some people's eyes, every entrepreneur is a "wantrapreneur" until they have a big, successful exit and everyone in the valley knows their name. This is stupid and exactly the opposite of what Silicon Valley is about. If you want to be an entrepreneur, don't let the haters stop you. Live the life you want to live and ignore the hate. The good news is that if you don't let these things get to you, they will ultimately eat their own hearts out, not yours.

10. Do something that adds meaning to your life. There are many ways to make money, and not all of them give a person meaning in life. If you're doing something that doesn't give you meaning, it will feel empty, no matter how many billions of dollars it makes. You won't be happy. I had a business like this once, and I'm glad I gave it away. But that's a story for another day.I'll be honest that I don't know what the future holds for GoalSponsors. I'm hyper-present to what I have been failing at and am currently doing wrong, and I'm grateful to know that it makes me exponentially more likely to be successful in my next start-up to make these mistakes now. Sadly, I still have to go fix these mistakes and make up for lost time, and I'm hopeful it will make GoalSponsors successful. That said, I acknowledge that there's a 9 in 10 chance that my startup, like all startups, will fail. But I'm still here, still working on it. Today, I'm still in the game.

Keep watching Start-Ups: Silicon Valley Monday nights at 10/9c on Bravo! Also, feel free to check out my app, follow me (Facebook, Twitter), or book me for speaking engagements by emailing the address listed at the bottom of my website!


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