09/21/11 | Uncategorized

10 Lessons From Starting a Business, Lots of Coffee and More

By Simone Brummelhuis (Founder, TheNextWomen)
Elizabeth Hodgson is founder of Civic Boom, a startup that is building the world’s first true community and audience assignment system that connects people with stories with people who need them. A journalist, blogger, publisher or media organisation asks for stories. The audience responds directly with videos, photo, audio and text.

Reflecting on her startup experience and entrepreneurial journey, Elizabeth Hodgson uncovers these 10 lessons learned from starting a Civic Boom:

  1. Caffeine is serious business. No matter how much you love your job or how passionate you are about your goals, you’re still going to get tired and you’re still going to feel low. A good cup of tea or coffee is a faithful friend: always there to pick you up. In the last month we’ve invested in 2 teapots, a cafetierre, 3 boxes of coffee, 2 boxes of masala chai, 2 shiny new strainers, 40 tea sacks, a milk steamer and a dainty little china teacup. Now that’s commitment.
  2. Just because you think that your idea is gold doesn’t meant secretaries at VC firms will agree. You’re going to get a lot of “not interested”, “not investing” or just outright rejections. That shouldn’t stop you. Let’s look at the Apprentice for a moment (yes it’s relevant). Helen was the ideal candidate, won almost all the tasks, broke all the records and yet she lost. Why? Well, her idea was a bit naff but there was also a moment, a moment where Tom rose out of mediocrity and grasped for the crown. He was ingenious, he was crafty, he found the front entrance locked so he conjured a side door out of nothing. If you’re not getting the names you need through traditional means you need to be creative and you need to persevere. If the company doesn’t list the contact details of the team responsible for sourcing investment, then find another way to get in touch. See if one of them has a blog, see if you connected via linked in, do whatever it takes; they’ll often appreciate the ends you’ve gone to just to speak to them.
  3. Every button is a work of art. Click a button and it will do something: turn your PC on, open a lock, play that video. You just slap it on whatever you want, fiddle with some wires for a few minutes and everything is dandy right? Wrong. So so wrong. If that button isn’t connected to the right elements it might do nothing at all, or worse it might wipe your computer rather than turning it on. Every button, every link, every aspect of a site is a painstaking combination of underlying functions tied together nicely with a simple visual aid on the top. Under the hood, the complexity of coding is mind boggling.
  4. Bosses are often bossy. Who would have thought it.
  5. There’s never enough time. Ever. It will drag when you’re utterly stuck over the simplest of points and fly by when you’re on a roll. It will start slowly: you’ll just note that time has gone quickly today. Then it will happen again. And again. Pretty soon you’ll be devising meticulous schedules to best manage your time and setting stopclocks to keep yourself on track. That won’t work. A little worried, you’ll start wearing a second watch, just in case the first one is wrong or it breaks. Then comes the detailed plans designed to help you think ideas through in advance and thrash out difficult concepts quickly. The problem is that you never seem to have time to do both so you’ll have a whole string of half baked ideas on the go and because of your lack of time, they’ll all be jostling for attention and getting muddled up. You’ll end up abandoning the concept of time entirely, simply stating that this is “wording change day” or “design day”. Traditional weekdays just can’t cope with your busy schedule. You might have a bit of a problem actually, and we really think you should seek help.
  6. Nothing is ever finished. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things get “done” but although that beautiful front page that took hours of coding and design is done but it’s not finished, at some point it will inevitably be modified/cannibalised/completely disregarded. Evolution is a damn clever thing and every step makes us stronger but it’s not always kind.
  7. Despite how it might look, the experience is a spiral not a circle. What the hell does that even mean? Well, you never do the same thing twice (not when you’re a young go-getter working at Civic Boom anyway). Sometimes it will feel like you’re treading the same path over and over again but if you look carefully you’ll see that, though you may be writing the same thing yet again (damn you ‘About’ page!), the focus has shifted since last time, certain aspects have faded and others have become more prominent. Revisiting thing and reworking them over and over until they’re just right is part of the process and every time you do it, you get a little bit higher up the spiral and a bit closer to where you want to be.
  8. The sun is cruel. It’s never sunny at the weekends but glorious on week days. The start of the day is inevitably gloomy until you’re a few minutes away from the office at which point nature decides it wants to bask the world in its glory. Sadly, it’s a bit less spectacular when you’re staring longingly from behind some glass in a room bathed in the harsh glow of artificial light. It’s all ok though because after you finish work, there’s always the glorious sunset to look forward to. Except it only really bursts into life when you work late, if you finish early (gasp) you can bet that the sun will sink into the clouds without a trace of beauty. Gah.
  9. The devil is in the details. Just because you understand everything about your idea (shocker) doesn’t mean other people will have a clue what you’re rambling on about. You have to be clear. You have to be concise. Some crazy so and sos even say that you should try and help your consumer understand and utilise your product! Whilst that is, of course, madness it’s probably a good idea to explain everything to your user rather than throwing them head first into the madness. What is this, Dwarf Fortress?
  10. The only way to succeed is with talent and a whole load of perseverance. That or a bucket of cash… then again even that’s no guarantee, just look at the legend that is Boo… You think you can’t compete with the industry giants, but you can and will. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to building a world beater in your shed but through sheer talent and determination you can create something outstanding. Luckily for us, we have an outstanding development team, a Chinese take away on speed dial and a whole lot of caffeine. We call it liquid determination.

This post was originally published at TheNextWomen.

About the guest blogger: Simone Brummelhuis is Founder, CEO and Editor-in Chief of TheNextWomen, the First Women’s Internet Business Magazine and Community with a focus on startups and growing businesses, led, founded or invested in by women be it in the media, service, retail, communication or any other industry, with a tech or internet angle, from Silicon Valley to Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. A partner of Women 2.0, the NextWomen is behind concepts such as Kitchen Dinners.



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