20 Lessons Learned from the First 3 Months of SOOMLA

sign to keep quiet, hacking in process
I finally did it 3 months ago.  I quit my day job and jumped into the deep water with two partners.  Together we co-founded SOOMLA.  We’re a self-serve platform for creating dynamic in-app purchase stores with no coding, the first of a kind.  Instead of diving into the technical business details, I’d like to share the facts and insights I’ve learned over the course of our first 3 months as a startup.  This post is heavily inspired by a post by Fab’s CEO, Jason Goldberg.  Here it goes, counting 20:


    1. Don’t expect to raise money because you’re not going to.  This doesn’’t mean your product isn’’t great or your team isn’’t strong enough.  It just means that most investors are risk-averse.  Even if you have a team of rockstars and a killer product in a huge market, at an early stage most of them prefer to hang around till you show some traction or until some other investor jumps in first.
    2. Build a thorough fund raising strategy.  Don’t just go “yeah I’m looking for money”.  You need to create a plan that’s aligned with the pace of your product development and customer acquisition.  Think about how much cash you actually need, who you want to raise from, how many rounds you want to open and what the investment terms are.  Share your plan with experienced entrepreneurs as a sanity check.  This was a big change for us and made us completely rethink our strategy.
    3. Quit fucking around. This one’s my favorite.  Shut down your email and Facebook, don’t go to any meetups, delete stupid movies people send you, and restrict your Techcrunch time to 15 minutes a day.  If you’re a technical co-founder like myself, avoid business meetings and trust your biz-oriented co-founder to nail them and update you later.  Your coding time is sacred and the opportunity cost is just too big to waste it slacking off online.  The only exception is helping people out, which is good Karma and will get back to you in the long run.  @Stammy of Picplum has written about it in Techcrunch.  I think this was the last time I extensively read Techcrunch 🙂
    4. Work hard but keep a sustainable pace.  Don’t do all-nighters.  Your exhaustion will eventually kick you in the butt and those few extra hours you worked up till 4AM will cost you most of the following day.
    5. Always be asking for feedback, from anyone, about anything.  You’ll talk to hundreds of people with worthless comments until you hit that one person who’s feedback is a golden nugget.
    6. Don’t take easy money. In the early months, you will get financing offers from all kinds of investors looking for exceptional terms and equity.  This will practically buy your ass and paralyze your future rounds.  Don’t get tempted.
    7. It’s better to pay in equity than in cash.  This isn’’t just dictated by how much money you can afford to pay.  It’s a philosophy we’’ve embraced which asserts that stakeholders in your venture will be much more engaged and interested to help when they have ownership in the company instead of being contractors or paycheck collectors.
    8. Administration is a hassle, get it out of your way as quick as possible.  I’’m talking about incorporation, a founders’ agreement, lawyers, bookkeeping, bank accounts etc.  All of’ them are important, but none of’em will actually advance your product so don’t stall on each one too much.
    9. Think in terms of risk reduction.  This was hard for me to do at first, being a tech-minded person.  Keep asking yourself what activity would most mitigate your risks as a company and engage in that activity.
    10. Participating in a conference is great for PR, but kills focus and consumes too much time.  Say no to most conferences and competitions unless you get called upon without applying or unless you see a real value booster.
    11. Do one thing, and do it better than anyone else.  Focus is key to moving fast and building something great that nobody else can build.  Say no to more features and more ideas.  Instead, focus on a lean and beautiful product that solves one problem all the way.  There are several services in our realm (mobile gaming) that have 5 different offerings for developers, but none of them do one thing exceptionally well.
    12. Be humble.  This is also my personal credo talking.  Don’t brag about your achievements. Nobody likes people that bitch around about how much they raised or how awesome they are.  Remember that your chances to build the next Facebook aren’’t in your favor, but….
    13. Be a believer.  Always have faith in your product.  Leave aside the sales pitch, this has an enormous impact on the dynamics between you and your co-founders.  If one partner has a shitty day and starts thinking bad thoughts (which is perfectly normal in a pre-investment, pre-traction stage), the others should employ their vision and faith to bring him her back on track.
    14. Don’t outsource your core technology, ever! (I knew that before these 3 months but I still think it’s worth mentioning).
    15. UI + UX shouldn’’t be taken for granted in terms of difficulty and dev time.  In the early stages of a startup, since the UI is the only thing that’s customer facing, it will be the bottleneck of development.  Prioritize efforts on the parts of the product that users actually see with their own eyes, you can always optimize the backend parts later.
    16. Your performance is measured by your co-founders.  You think you can “fire at will” because you still don’t have any employees to parent after, but the truth is you’’ve got your co-founders behind your shoulder examining the quality of your work and the speed of your delivery.  You should examine them too.  Given the risk you’ve taken, it’s only rational to validate yourself and your choice of partners by following their work closely.  I’ve been blessed with two co-founders who I trust with my eyes closed, and I’m confident they feel the same about me, but it took us a while to build this level of trust.
    17. Use your friends for leveraging your social footprint, and making new intros.  Don’t be afraid to ask, they’d do the same if they were in your position.
    18. Tel Aviv is a kick-ass city for startups.  Great weather, lots of events, a huge tech community and plenty of bars for drowning your sorrow in a glass of whiskey at the end of hard coding day.  I know it’s a tough sell for Silicon Valley diehards, but I recommend reading a post by the guys at Buffer who were very content with the time they spent here.
    19. Exercise a lot.  Heck, you’re finally out of that corp, you make your own schedule now.  Try to jog bike whatever at least 2-3 times a week.  It will ease your mind and foster your creativity.
    20. Prepare for the ride of your life.  You will enjoy it no matter what and you’ll never feel more fulfilled.

 

That’s it.  You’re welcome to drop by and check our in app purchase store platform, or have a look at our open source projects on Github.  Please, do share your thoughts and learning experiences in the comments.
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