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Lessons Learned

7 Tough Lessons I've Learned Since Starting My Own Company

Starting your own business is exhausting, frustrating, and rewarding. Here are seven things I wish I knew before I started.

7 Tough Lessons I've Learned Since Starting My Own Company
[Photo: Federica Campanaro via Unsplash]

Three years ago, at the age of 24, I set out on the biggest adventure of my life: building a company from the ground up. The result of that leap into the unknown is Move Loot, a marketplace for buying and selling furniture and decor with full-service pickup and delivery. Starting from a storage unit in San Francisco with three other friends, we’ve grown into a 90-person company with teams in four cities across the country, serving customers from NYC to Los Angeles.

It has been humbling, enlightening, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, eye-opening, and rewarding to get to where we are today. But above all else, it has been the learning experience of a lifetime to build, execute, and iterate on a product and see results in real-time. I’ve learned enough to fill a library about our specific business model, our customers, our systems, our data. And I’ve also learned several volumes worth about myself, about what it’s like to start your first company, and what it’s like to be the young upstart business in an old-school industry.

[Related: 10 Things An Investor Looks For In An Entrepreneur]

1. It Can Be Incredibly Lonely

As humans, we are hardwired to find communities, and we spend most of our life going through experiences or working on projects in groups. We have classmates in school, teammates when we play sports, family ties, and friend squads. Starting your own company more often than not means breaking out of the crowd and going your own way (just like the Fleetwood Mac song). While trailblazing carries with it the excitement of adventure and discovery, it can also be a long and lonely road, full of bushwhacking, rivers to forge, and mountains to move.

Luckily, though no one has started your company before, there are others who have ventured out on their own before you—and they can be a welcome oasis in the desert of entrepreneurship. Seek out a support system to turn to for advice, help, or commiseration, and consider finding cofounders to embark on your journey with you. Sometimes you just need a good listener who knows enough about what you’re going through to nod at the right times and say, "You’re not alone."

[Related: 6 Things I’ve Learned As An Etsy Entrepreneur]

2. There Is No Set Path To Follow

You are the first adventurer down this particular path, and it’s up to you to find your way there. As tempting as it is to try to follow the path of an entrepreneur that came before, that strategy is full of potential pitfalls. Chances are, the recipe that worked for another business wouldn’t be as successful for you if you copied it verbatim to your business model. And those copycat businesses rarely make headlines or revolutionize their industries.

Get comfortable with the uncertainty of the road ahead, and get familiar with the feeling of going out on a limb. The best companies are built on calculated trial and error—a series of smart mistakes that lead to breakthroughs and realizations. This takes time and a lot of hard work, but it is worth it in the long run to find the playbook that is unique to your business and drives the results you want.

3. Get Used To Constant Change

They’ve been known since the age of the ancient Greek philosophers, but Heraclitus’s words still ring true today: The only constant is change. With a fledgling business, this could not be more true. The most successful companies keep this mentality as they grow, adapting to the times and always innovating. In order to truly be able to build the best product or business, you need to be willing to change and avoid getting stuck in assumptions or ruts.

[Related: How To Get Athlete-Level Confidence At Work]

4. It Comes With Extreme Highs And Lows

As the founder of a business, the connection you feel to its successes and failures is far more pronounced and profound than the connection the average employee feels. Every milestone can hold as much significance as if it were your child—first logo, first bank account, first birthday, first payroll taxes. I lived the rollercoaster of Move Loot’s very early days fully, enjoying every win to the fullest and feeling every blow incredibly deeply.

Take notes to remember these times, especially the high times. Having your words from a moment on top to reference during a moment in the pits can help put things in perspective and get you to the next milestone. But also remember that there is a line between you the person and you the business. The more you can reinforce that line in your mind early on, the easier it will be down the road to keep your sanity.

5. Prioritize Your Own Needs, Or No One Will

You and your company are not one and the same, and your company will not make sure you eat well, sleep well, see your family, and exercise. It is easy to become fully absorbed in your business and put off other important things, so keep your professional and personal priorities in check to make sure you don’t lose yourself in your company.

6. You Will Get More Unsolicited Advice Than You Could Have Ever Imagined

Everyone has an opinion, and when you start a business, people come out of the woodwork to share their amazing ideas about what you should do. Usually well-meaning, this advice can range from insightful to off-topic, from inspiring to insulting. It all has value of some form, but remember that you know your business best and you make the final decision on what you do. My advice? Feel free to ignore 90% of the unsolicited advice you get.

This is not to be confused with advice and feedback from experienced mentors and advisers whom you actively seek out for their wisdom. There are many valuable sources of advice to tap into as your business grows and as you encounter new challenges and stages of development. View this advice, as all other advice, through the context of what’s best for your business. Make sure not to blindly follow any advice without believing that it fits with your perspective on what the right path forward is, no matter what the source is.

7. You Will Leapfrog Your Career And Grow More Than You Can Imagine

So maybe you have heard this last, bonus, seventh thing, but it’s the truth. Starting your own business and breaking out of the norm will propel your career and development to the next level in record time. The act of conceiving of a business, building the model, launching the MVP and growing that business from the ground up allows you to see every angle of a company and the phases of its development as if on fast-forward. And as a result you embody a role and take on responsibilities that may have taken you years to reach by going down a more conventional path.

You get to make your own destiny. And you have the power to make it great.

Jenny Morrill is the CMO and co-founder of Move Loot.

This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.

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