From 0 to 1 to 0 again? In three years I went from engineering student to managing director of one of the top accelerators in France, helping more than 350 entrepreneurs and shaking hands with the president… And now left for another country. So I thought it’s a good time to look back.
Here are the 10 of the 30 lessons I learnt on the way:
A really short disclaimer
I’m definitely not a huge success story and these are not pieces of advice everyone should follow, merely things I learnt along the way. I actually write it out publicly mostly to make sure the lessons stick in my head. It’s a bit like an #OpenJournal for #OpenLearnings!
So please, if you see something that is contradictory to your experience, point it out and let’s discuss about it! I want to learn even more 🙏
1) It’s good to be curious!
When I arrived in Paris for the first time, I was an intern at a fast growing startup. I heard stories about a “bio-hackerspace” in the suburbs of Paris.
This didn’t make much sense, but he mentioned a few of their projects, including one that involved the NASA (!), and it sounded like people were having fun. So I took a bit of my time away from my normal routine and went to explore the place.
It turned out this was La Paillasse, a place where many super interesting people gravitate and this marked the beginning of a new chapter for me.
2) Surfing on a wave is a good idea
One of the reasons La Paillasse was such a vibrant place is that it was part of a bigger movement: the entrepreneurial wave. 2013 saw a huge explosion in the french startup scene (and by startup I mean startup). This made things much easier!
There was wave, in a few months you could be at the top. This created a situation where anyone could quickly be seen as the experienced person in the group.
Though that’s only true because…
3) Being an avid learner gave me an edge
For months, I watched videos whenever I was eating. I read books whenever I was travelling. I listened to podcasts whenever I was biking. I went to every meetup I could. I listened to the people who seemed to have more experience.
Honestly, this was a bit obsessive. But that worked, I gained a lot of knowledge in a short period.
4) I know nothing
Obviously if I was able to learn so much, so fast, it had to be that I started from pretty much… zero!
After 20 years of studying at school, at first, this felt pretty bad. But I kept devouring knowledge.
5) And pretty fast I realised that the others are like me
Yeah. Actually it turned out it wasn’t only me.
As I was telling everyone about what I had learnt, I could hear myself repeating the exact same things others had told me before.
That’s when I realised: Daaaamn! They just learnt it a few months ago! That’s crazy, everyone is actually as lost as me then?!
6) I can learn everything!
There was a nicer way to see it: if in every field, there are people who learn fast and then use the knowledge they just gained to be impactful, does that mean that I could choose any topic and learn enough about it to work in it as well?
7) I shouldn’t choose a startup topic by default
While I was hanging around La Paillasse, I started a project with a few other people. To me it was more to have fun than anything. Just for the sake of getting involved in something cool and making.
But pretty fast it turned into a “startup” project. It wasn’t just a little thing anymore, now we believed we could conquer the world! It made it easier to spend sleepless nights working on it.
The only problem: I wasn’t ready. At all! That meant giving many years, much sweat and maybe tears on this project. So why would I suddenly do it because it turned into a startup?
It eventually failed and this was one of the reasons for sure.
8) Done is better than perfect
During this first startup experience, I made a lot of mistake. But one of the biggest is that I got stuck and never got out of the “wait a bit more, the 1st version comes out soon”.
With time and experience (I witnessed a few startups unfold) I can say that this is a classic pitfall. There are no excuses not to talked with your customers. I should have both gone and talked to my customers while I had close to nothing and tried to get some insights from them. And I should have reduced the scope of the 1st version to get real life feedback on the concept ASAP.
Later on, on another project, I tried applied both solutions. And it worked super well. The amount of insight I got was crazy!
9) Don’t wait for other people
Another mistake (I think I actually made them all 😅), was that, after a while, I had more time available than my partners to work on the project.
And I didn’t use that to adapt my position and do as much as possible on my own. No, instead I buried myself in a meaningless task at that point: building a Business Plan that I didn’t really know how to do. And that I didn’t want to do. Awesome excuse to procrastinate and… Do nothing 🙃
I think the good thing would have been to be transparent with my partners, apply learning 8) (what I didn’t understand at the time) and do as much talking with customers as possible.
10) I shouldn’t choose my cofounders by default
This is exactly the same as point 8), except it’s with teammates. While the project was turning into something more serious, I was struggling with the fact that I didn’t respect the persons I was working with enough.
Not only were they not friend, but they were people I, frankly, felt like I wasn’t worried to let down. And the reason is because I randomly got to know them.
This might be ok for a project. But that’s definitely not ok for a startup. And when the first difficulty arose, I quit.
I wouldn’t have stopped so easily if I had had more loyalty to them. And we might have eventually fixed the other mistakes we made if we had more time and grit.
It sounds harsh, but I’m 100% sure I’m not the only one it happened to. I could later witness it in other startups. Also, these guys have awesome qualities and the ability to build a great startup. But as a team, we didn’t have the special bound required to stand every difficulties.