Battle for experience – advice for young founders

I was confused after reading the article by Marcin Szelag and it inspired me to write a counter article. The hypothesis quoted Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.com in short was: people should wait a long time (10-20 years) to gain experience, before starting their own companies.  

A little background: my parents taught me a lot about entrepreneurship, lessons I am very thankful for. When I was 20 I became a founder of Wroclaw Sunrise, an academic startup that fostered connection between best university talents and local SMEs. At start, we've managed to build a team of 20+ talented, great people, mostly MSc and PhD students. Within 2 years we've managed to build a wide local partnership and raise ~€1M of EU funds.  

Despite the fact it was public money, at that time there were many such funds in Poland (~€110B of total 2007-2013 budget), I learned one can compete with more experienced people if consistently work hard.  

3 years later I co-founded skygate, which is currently a 40 person web product development company, delivering cutting edge ux/ui, front-end and back-end for early-stage and mature startups, some of them with 9 digits annual revenue. We're based in three cities in Poland, we're also registered in UK and grow our network of satisfied customers - mostly from US and EU - but also Kuwait, Norway, Australia and China.  

I think the first problem with post-soviet countries like Poland is a lack of entrepreneurial culture, low profit mentality, and small amounts of available capital. But on the other hand - the percentage of smart, young people with higher education and desire to work hard in Poland is way larger than in US and EU. The second problem is that we've got not so many entrepreneurs, and startup companies are just showing up, so there are few people to learn from. But I take every problem as a challenge.  

Coming back to Marcin's article - people say that you need to learn a lot before starting your own company. In my opinion that's surely more secure path, but I doubt the lesson during that time is fast enough. While you will gain experience as an employee (I've worked in 4 different software companies before founding skygate) - there is no better lesson than working on your own. While working in a small business or large corporation (I did both) you can gain important skills, but your own customers will teach you at the highest speed :)  

founders startups experience battle

So it's a battle of experience. The more experience you have, the more likely you're to succeed. The question is how to get that experience quickly? Some answers - find mentors, but the problem with your manager or a boss as a mentor lays in the employee/employer relation. In a company everyone has their own tasks and you won't know what it's like to be a boss if you don’t try it on your own. While on daily basis an employee focuses on task execution, the employer concentrates on the big picture - it may be some sort of learning, but in my opinion the learning curve here is too long. So maybe the solution is to change your bosses often? But if you do it so, your CV won't look promising. Thus, working as an employee is not the fastest way to get experience. Marcin's solution is secure - but takes long.  

The problem while working for others is when you think they're doing wrong - you're unlikely to change that. Your boss will be focused on executing known path, he probably did the experiments when the company was smaller - now he just iterates and improves the algorithm that simply works. There are no better lessons than failures and I think I've achieved a lot of failures as a founder of Sunrise and skygate (and I'm happy I did). What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  

What's also a good lesson when working with customers is that they pay you only when they are satisfied, while your employer pays you because you've signed a contract and the only way to change it is to fire you - which happens less often than making your customers unhappy.  

I agree on learning from others, but it is not enough to set up a company, which is built of all these small problems and tiny, but crucial, decisions. There is no boss that will teach you all these parts - unless you're an equal founder or a C-level executive.  

My advices for young founders for getting the experience:

  • Don't expect too much business experience from your university so learn as many skills as you can, and grow network.
  • For experience share - meet with other founders, other companies, build a network of people like you.
  • Travel a lot, you've probably met most interesting people in your city - so move further.
  • Read stories about other real-life companies, the more details you can get - the better, especially about their excel sheets.
  • Don't spend too much time in large corporations, just take your lesson and move on, prefer small companies and smaller, less stable salary.
  • Fail, fail and fail again - but learn from these lessons.
  • Read about others' failures.

 

More good tips you can find in this Quora article.  

Btw - if you're looking for help in building your web product or just want to talk about your idea - I'm always available, just ping me: chris.parjaszewski@skygate.io  

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Chris Parjaszewski  

CEO / Co-Founder  

www.skygate.io