Stupid things I did while building my first startup

Avoiding stupidity is a powerful way to reach your success goals. You don’t always need to do great things. You can go a long way if you avoid stupid mistakes.

In this blog post, I am talking about the stupid things I have done while building my first startup. 

I joined Marketfox with the dream of building the next big thing. 

We had the opportunity to move to the much-coveted Silicon Valley, after being funded by Ycombinator – one of the best startup accelerators in the world. It was a dream come true. 

Fast forward two years, we had to shut down the company due to several reasons – one of them being the lack of revenue. 

Here are a few stupid things I have done while building that startup.

Not taking care of ourselves

Rents in the Bay Area are super high. We didn’t have a fortune back then. We were on a budget – but I think we could have used what we had to do certain things better.

We slept on the carpeted floor. All we had was one table and a few chairs. 

We worked mostly sitting on the floor, combating the cold mornings. It also took a toll on our productivity. 

My cofounder took the picture below – I had fallen asleep writing code.

Working 15-16 hours a day

Hard work is romanticized by the startup world. I used to brag how many hours I worked a day as if it is an achievement. 

Do not get me wrong – consistent work matters a lot if you want to be successful.

But the number of hours is not directly proportional to the output and is far from the outcome. Your body needs rest and good food. 

After some point, we lost the notion of day and night. We slept at random times, woke up at random times, and continued working.

Imbalance in decision making

Most of the decisions were often made by a single person, without enough brainstorming. It is not the ideal way of working. 

Fast decision making is crucial in a startup. 

But it is also important to include the key people and letting them have their say in making that decision.

Talk about things you feel are wrong. If you do not value your opinions, do not expect someone else to do it. 

Never let someone else control you. Never let someone else make a decision that is yours. 

Not moving enough

It took me a while to understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The effects of physical exercise on mental health are still very underrated.

In the beginning, we worked and we slept. That was it. Over time we started going for occasional walks. 

We always resort to eating junk food(which I don’t regret much, because most of them were delicious) and not exercising enough. 

So far it was about personal mistakes, but we also made plenty of classic startup mistakes along the way.

Not talking to our customers

We shipped features at a tremendous pace. But we never talked to enough users to identify if it was something necessary. We assumed things and kept building – in a few months, we had a product which was an engineering marvel – but nobody cared to use.

Too much building and not enough selling

I still look back with awe at the speed with which we shipped. But it does not matter if you cannot sell the product.

We focused less on selling and this was a big mistake. 

We were very naive to think that building software is the hardest part of building a startup.

Copying from competitors 

All the companies do this. Look at what stories from Snapchat have done to the social apps.

But even when you copy features, you have to make sure your users want it. Instagram copied the stories successfully, but when Medium tried the same, it was not very successful.

Copying from the competition will only get you as far as them. Your goal should be to build things that are much better than them if you want to make people switch. 

Unless the new product is excellent, it won’t overcome the pain of making the switch. 

Lack of vision

It is always a good idea to have a grand vision for the company if you are raising venture capital.

We blindly kept building features without any vision. 

A simple question we should ask ourselves is – Who is your ideal user? What do they want to achieve with your product?

We had a bunch of features, probably what five different products would have done. But no single user wanted.

Final thoughts

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. It was an experience that changed my life for the good. I’m happy that I did it – I am happy that I tried and failed. 

I learned a lot. About people, trust, and startups. 

I made two amazing friends

…and a lot of memories.


I was able to build my second startup from all the learnings I had from this journey.

I’m also helping run a small community called – HerJobs – A way for distributed teams to diversify their team by hiring female talent from around the globe.

12 thoughts on “Stupid things I did while building my first startup

  1. Pingback: Stupid mistakes I made while building my first startup - GistTree

    1. Sooraj Chandran

      It is very naive to assume that Macbook is not a real computer. I use the same machine to date, and it was a great investment. I’ve built and sold a startup all through that – so no regrets there.

      Like

    1. Sooraj Chandran

      I don’t know about Gucci bags. But A Macbook is definitely not a fashion/status piece. Back then it was the only solution that I could use to write code and design stuff with the same quality.

      Like

  2. To the ones that come and say Apple is ultra-expensive:

    You don’t understand the cost of developing technology. If you are able to use the internet it is the result of 1000s of people working passionately.

    There is an immense level of detail in a pixel of a MacBook that is unimaginable for your mind right now. That’s the diference between mediocrity and masterpiece.

    Build your sensitivity to what “Good” is in technology before you pass judgements.

    Again, I understand the oh-so-many-goodies you can get by simply choosing to build a battlestation yourselves, but it’s a fallcy of thought to think you should have those goodies by settling for lesser priced computer and diverting the difference to goodies. Instead focus on how you can have the best that technology can offer. That is the broader mindset to develop.

    Would you want to work at a hotel for paid lunch, or would you want to have enough money to buy lunch for rest of your life? Your choice. Broaden your horizons.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. William

    Mac developer here and a Windows gamer. My Asus G14 is an amazing kit, but the MBP does all the work and pays the bills. Easy to maintain ( actually, no maintenance ) and never interrupts my workflow.

    Like

  4. Hi, thanks for sharing what you shared. It was a good read. I bet it makes you feel good, looking back at the journey you’ve been through till date. This read is yet another reminder of how our experiences help shape ourselves.

    Like

  5. Pingback: My fitness philosophy – Memos by Sooraj

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