Four pieces of startup advice I've been given over the past couple years as my team and I started our business (Boston-based Trill). At first glance, they are completely and frustratingly contradictory. But I think I've now figured out how to reconcile them.
  1. Fail fast.
    Makes sense. Get the most basic version of your product out there quickly, see if people even want it, and if not, ditch it and pivot, or close up shop. No point (or money) in limping along.
  2. Persevere.
    Wait, wha?! You just told me that if things aren't going gangbusters, move along. How am I supposed to know when to go ahead and call it, and when to dig in my heels and persevere?
  3. Move as quickly as possible.
    Work 24/7. No time for sleeping, hanging out with friends, or eating anything except for ramen (MIT Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, I'm looking at you).
  4. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
    Ummmm, seriously? You literally just told me to sprint. Am I now supposed to sprint for 26.2 miles? Or are you telling me I was actually supposed to be measured and balanced in my approach this whole time?? Holy f.
  5. Conclusion, Part 1
    Ok ok, so it turns out, it is possible to do all these things concurrently. Most obviously, "fail fast" and "move as quickly as possible" apply in the idea phase of startup-building, when it's important not to waste time or money you don't have building something that no one may even want. And then when you've kinda got it and you're in the growth phase, you gotta just keep going and not quit ("persevere"), which takes fortitude and some sense of balance ("marathon") so you don't burn out.
  6. Conclusion, Part 2
    But I think there's more to this than idea and growth phases being different. I now realize that all four do apply at all times. "Fail fast" really refers to a startup's product, not to the startup itself; you want the product to succeed or fail quickly, but if the latter happens, that doesn't mean your team has failed. It probably means you've learned oodles, and now it's perseverance time; you actually now know what customers want (and you just need to convince your investors of that).
  7. Conclusion, Final
    Knowing this - that you plan for your team to be around for the long haul whether or not your first product fails - you realize from the beginning that "move as quickly as possible" means "move as quickly as possible given that you're about to run 26.2 miles". Eating reasonably, getting enough rest, and taking breaks (a vacation even!) doesn't sound so silly then, does it? In fact, I've learned recently that doing these things actually makes me more productive and, even better, more creative.