Startup Lessons 101

Jopwell was selected as one of 96 teams from a pool of 6,000 to participate in the Summer ’15 class of Y Combinator, the preeminent accelerator program for startups. On June 1st, our team packed up and moved to San Francisco, California for the duration of the program. We live and work out of our apartment, in which we somehow manage to fit 9 people. It has been an absolutely amazing experience. The work never stops, but neither does the fun nor the learning. Some common themes have arisen over the past 10 weeks that I think any innovator or budding entrepreneur might find interesting…

  1. Do things that don’t scale. – Sometimes, the best practices that end up defining a company’s brand, strengthening its relationship with its users and ironically helping it grow, aren’t sustainable long term. However, these practices are still critically important to the success of a company. AirBnb is an amazing example of this idea. In the early stages of the company, the two co-founders participated in Y Combinator and also moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area, like the Jopwell team did this summer, to participate. The program consists of mandatory founder dinners and office hours with YC partners, scheduled at each team’s discretion. In between these required events, founders and their teams are expected to work on growing their businesses nonstop. For AirBnb, that meant frequently flying all the way back to NYC (where they saw the most business) to go door to door to recruit new customers and helping existing ones improve their apartment listings by taking high quality photographs of the space themselves, on behalf of their customers. This was no doubt a very expensive, tiring and time-consuming practice. However, this “white glove” service and dedication to “doing things that don’t scale” not only drove the activity on their site, but it also allowed them to directly connect with and learn from their customers, increase customer satisfaction and ultimately lay the foundation for the strong brand of trust it is known worldwide for today. The AirBnb founders did whatever they needed to do, no matter how unsustainable, to ensure their users were finding success via their platform and that has made all the difference. Jopwell practices this same principle on a daily basis to ensure that our candidates are finding opportunities specific to their skills and interests and that company users are finding ideal talent for the roles they are seeking to fill. No matter what it takes, our end goal is to satisfy both of our customers.
  2. Think long-term greedy. – One of the main differences between start-ups and large corporations is the scope of their focus. Large corporations have whole strategy teams that plan the entire company’s future over the next 5 years. Whole departments and products hang in limbo, paralyzed without specific forecasts and timelines. Early stage start-ups are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Our goal is always the same: get through the day ahead. We don’t know if we will be around tomorrow, in a week, in a month, or much less in a year so we are perpetually focused on executing in the short-term. This isn’t to say that start-up founders and their early-stage employees lack vision. It just means that we often prioritize the ‘right now.’ That is the difference between whether we make it far enough to even be able to execute on the long-term vision or not. When pushing new features, we focus on the most immediate needs of our candidates and company users, as opposed to the bigger plan we have in store. Every so often, we must remind ourselves to be “long-term greedy” and look at the bigger picture. For example, sometimes our sales team faces the choice between locking down a partnership for a contract with less than ideal figures and belaboring the negotiation in hopes of landing a bigger deal. It’s important to remember that building a successful business for years to come is about winning wars, even if that means losing a few battles along the way. If you find yourself in a less than ideal negotiation position, try to decipher the battle versus the war.
  3. Done is better than perfect. – Every single person on our team is a high-achiever. Perfection is everyone’s middle name. However, when shipping new product features, I’ve learned that done is always better than perfect. In fact, there is no such thing as perfect. Creating the best product for the market requires constant iteration. Time is always passing, cultural norms are always shifting, technology is always advancing, people’s wants and needs are always changing, and thus the market is always moving. Perfect today might not be perfect by tomorrow’s standards so theoretically, there is no end to improvement. That said, at a certain point, it is more important to launch your business, product or feature sooner and worry about perfecting it later. Some benefits are obvious: less time to market could mean a first mover advantage over competitors. Others, less so: you will get a better understanding of the core product and the things that are most critical to your customers. The most important thing when launching a new product or feature is getting feedback from the actual people who use it. The sooner you publish, the sooner you polish. The worst feeling is perfecting a new feature that it turns out no one wants, or no longer needs because the need no longer exists or because it is being satisfied in a different way or by a different source. Time, money and human capital are basically a luxury for start-ups. The minimum viable product or MVP will do the first time, every time.
  4. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick – small size is an advantage.  What I love about working at a startup versus working at a corporation is the agile nature of the business and the speed at which the team implements change. If something isn’t working or yielding the desired results, WE CHANGE IT. Immediately. There is no bureaucracy. Nothing stands between us and a quick response to feedback, besides data and an impromptu pow wow. Our size is one of our biggest advantages when going up against larger, more established companies.
  5. There’s real value in your story. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the reasons I felt comfortable joining Jopwell was because I was confident in the fact that this team is the only team that can bring this specific idea to market at this specific point in time. A huge part of the pitch to investors up until this point (including Y Combinator) has been about the networks we have built, the collective resources we have amassed and the expertise we have cultivated as a result of our unique experiences navigating various diversity recruiting programs since high school. Our story is also a part of our unique value proposition that we leverage whenever possible. Investors, the media and users all buy into our story and as a result, we mostly pitch our story instead of having to sell it.

Anastacia Gordon is a tech investor, writer, and (former) operator born in Jamaica, but raised in NYC. She’s currently an MBA student at Columbia Business School and spends her time consumed by all things music x media x culture x tech. While in school, she has invested alongside incredible people at Kapor Capital, Cross Culture Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, and Comcast Ventures. Prior to that, she was a founding team member at Jopwell (YC S’15). 

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1 Comment

  1. Great article! My favorite takeaway was ‘Done is better than perfect.’ Perfection so often leads to paralysis and can prevent the pitching and development of great ideas and products. I feel like this tip is applicable in many areas of life, especially in areas of my spiritual and professional growth. Love your wisdom – thank you for sharing 🙂


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