9 things I learned in my first year of running a startup


Starting a new company is hard. Let me rephrase that, starting a new company is like getting kicked in the pants every single day of the week. I quit a pretty good job last year to launch a startup with two buddies. All the comfort of free lunch be damned!

I learned a lot about myself over the past year, about endurance and about what it means to really go all-in. I wanted to share some of lessons in the case other people are about to go through the same thing.

1. You get punched in the face a lot

Iron Mike Tyson said it best: everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. We started off with many ambitious dreams and then quickly realized that life is going to be much tougher than originally planned. Being able to get up after each adverse event is critical to staying the course. Managing my energy and mental state was something I needed to learn pretty quickly.

2. It’s normal to feel unemployed (at first)

I kinda felt like a poser. Who am I to try to go out on my own? Do I really have what it takes to really succeed?

I don’t even come to the ankles of some of these successful leaders in the industry. The feeling of being an impostor was omnipresent (at first).

But that started to change. As we won more clients and delivered increasingly better quality work, my confidence level increased.

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Photo by StartupStockPhotos.com

3. I read too many crappy articles like this one

I’m only half kidding here. I’ve always been distracted but shiny objects. Spending time on reading the plethora of online listicles was not a productive use of my time. I use Momentum in Chrome to keep me from opening yet another tab.

4. I went to several pointless conferences

Networking is pretty important but you need to have an objective. I often went to events just for the feeling of seeing/ being seen, which was ultimately unproductive. I try to limit my time to only the highest value networking opportunities.

5. The key is to learn faster than everyone else

It’s insane the amount of knowledge you suck in when you’re in a life or death struggle. We are now in constant learning mode, taking signals from the market to develop and improve our approach.

6. Working with the right partners is so important

I feel really blessed to work with two great dudes.

There’s no bullshit and no politics. We often bicker and make fun of each other, but the core vision is always the same. I don’t know if this is always the case in partnerships, but I find it very doubtful. This is my biggest take away this year.

7. Planning sucks, but it can save your life

Agility is hyper important in a startup. You need the ability to change direction quickly. However, you need an odometer. Strategic planning served that purpose for my team. We take two days out of every quarter to map out where we are, what we need to adjust and to lay out the plan for the next three months.

8. I absolutely love working with entrepreneurs

Working with leaders and entrepreneurs is hugely rewarding. We get to work with some great leaders and help them with their growth challenges. Dealing with deep strategy and human challenges is immensely fascinating.

9. Fighting for our freedom

I deeply believe in our mission of helping leaders move faster and enhancing their DNA in these exponential times. To achieve this audacious goal, we had to fight for our freedom. Not necessarily financial freedom but freedom to choose to work on the problem we want to solve.

By moving beyond traditional organizational structures, we’re able to have an outsized impact.

This year has been the most tumultuous in my life, and yet the most gratifying. It feels like that so much has happened in a short period of time – all the tears and effort have been worth it. And yet it feels like we’re just getting started.

Nectarios Economakis is the founder of PNR Digital, a management consulting firm with a technology and digital focus. 

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