ROSL105: Reflections on Startup Life, Week 105 – The last one.
For those that missed the new last week, we've just been acquired by AVOS, the owners of Delicious. Of course we're not "stopping" startup life at all, we're really continuing the journey but as part of a bigger brand and bigger team (although it's probably smaller than you might think!). It's been an amazing week. Now, finally after having to hold it under our hats for the last few weeks we get to go public.
Which is where the challenge lies in continuing a weekly "reflections".
It's become increasingly difficult to share news for lots of different reasons. Perhaps one of the reflections is that business can't be carried out completely in the open. This is not a new problem for us. There was lots we wanted to share during our negotiations for the failed funding starting as far back as March, yet we were constrained by the term sheet such that we couldn't say anything.
Before speaking with Delicious we were approached to work with another startup, but we declined. It didn't feel productive to discuss who – the offer was made in good faith and declined as such; but why let the world know that we were entertaining offers and that these people were looking to acquire?
All which leads me to the conclusion that after two years it's time to wind these weekly reflections up. It's a great record of the timing of events and the hints are out there on the key timings for those that read backwards with hindsight. I think it's better to share when I have something I really want to say and can say, rather than write some inanity because the thing I really want to talk about is not open to discuss.
One of the lessons I've learnt along the way is that whatever you say is open to interpretation, so to be really clear – I'm stopping because I want to, not because I've been asked to, it's never been raised in discussion. I said to someone the other day, we're all good at starting things, there is also an art in knowing when to stop. It feels like a good time to stop. We've carried this particular journey from start to end and been through a lot of ups and downs along the way. This feels like an ending to this story anyway.
So to summarise the last two years. What are my Top 10 lessons learnt?
- Never give up. One month ago I could not have told you this is where we'll be today. If you still believe in what you're doing, hang in there. No-one ever succeeded by giving up.
- Believe in what you're doing. Very few others will. That's OK – you're aiming for the future, not where everyone else is today, but it does wear you down.
- Build a support group of fellow startup founders that DOES believe in you. You'll treasure these people, they are the fellow dreamers and crazy ones who know what you're going through. Meet with them regularly – get out of your bubble long enough to share and gain perspective from others who know where you are at. Everyone's startup is dysfunctional. Things always look better from the outside than the inside, inside stories help you gain perspective on your own issues.
- Don't sweat the small stuff. True story – with Tribalytic we did everything "by the book" (trusts, companies, complicated company structures etc. etc.) and wasted money on a business that never really did that much. With Trunk.ly we ignored it all and just focussed on building a great product. With the right advice and money, most things can be fixed up after the fact.
- BUT… Get your IP right. Get paperwork in place. DON'T let ANYONE touch the code, view the code, breath on the code without watertight IP assignment agreements. I've heard horror stories of deals that fell through and after two due diligence processes now, I can say that the company structure was barely considered, but the IP was scrutinized closely.
- Financial Advice and Legal Advice is exactly that – advice, not necessarily gospel. Listen to them, then make your own mind up. That said, you get the advice you pay for. Find a good lawyer early on. The better the Lawyer the higher the fees but conversely, the less you'll need them. Paying more is cheaper in the long run. We had no issues finding people that would support us on deferred fees – ask.
- At the start of any contract negotiation you must have a high degree of trust. The process is exceedingly nit-picky and you'll constantly find yourself questioning the other party (and no doubt them doing the same). You have to go through it, you have to do it, but if you don't really trust them at the start, you may never make it through.
- Yes has a very distinctive look and feel. Once you've really experienced it, you'll know it when you see it again. If you're wondering if "is that a Yes" then it almost certainly isn't. Lots and lots of what sounds like "Yes" are really just a fancy way of saying "No". We wasted so much time on things that we THOUGHT were Yes, but with hindsight we now know were just fancy No's.
- Doing beats talking.
- When things are at their lowest and you want to toss it all in… sleep on it. It's amazing how much more resilient you are when you're rested. If you're going to toss in the towel anyway, take a couple of days off. If you still want to, so be it. Talk it over with a trusted, neutral advisor and gain some perspective. It frightens me how close Alex and I came to tossing the whole thing in when we were in SF back in May. We'd just been rejected by YC, we were jet lagged, exhausted, staying in a shitty hostel, and spending 24*7 together – we were in no state of mind to make such a crucial decision, yet it took our Lawyer to point out how stupid we were being. A few days later, back in Australia, with a couple of nights sleep under my belt it was all like a bad dream and we picked ourselves up and moved forward again.
So there you are. Thanks all for reading along, it's always a constant surprise and joy when I bump into people who tell me they read one of these posts! It's been a blast.
I'll still be writing here as the need takes me, but I'll be following a less rigid schedule now and basically writing when things grab me and I have something to say.
Perhaps the next series will be "Life in Silicon Valley!"
Cheers & Thanks,