I wasted $70k by building the first MVP for my business the wrong way.
In most cases, you don’t get to hear about mistakes founders have made until they’ve earned millions and can laugh about them on a podcast. Before this success, however, there’s pressure to unrealistically appear to always be making the right moves. In an effort to shift this culture, I want to share 8 mistakes I hope others can learn from—before my social app, Flox, even launches.
1. I spent a long time looking for a technical co-founder
This one will be controversial, but here goes: You don’t need a technical co-founder. While having one can help, stopping everything to find a technical co-founder or waiting to begin your venture until the right one comes along isn’t necessary. I wasted hours in a candidate’s market getting on the phone with people interested in being a technical co-founder, some of whom didn’t even know what my company did.
Instead, consider that just because your business requires technical talent, that doesn’t mean you need a technical co-founder. Instead, you can hire vetted technical talent from companies like A.Team (not an ad, but I have had the absolute best experience with them) in a matter of days. You can also give away small pieces of equity to bring on a great technical advisor or two. That buys you time to start your business without a technical co-founder, and then you can hire a CTO later on who can take the reins.
Another great way to find talent in general is by posting on TikTok. Candidates who believe in your mission will come to you after seeing your videos on TikTok. I hired my first engineer after he reached out to me because he saw my first video that went viral.
2. I outsourced a dev shop to build my first MVP
This was probably the biggest mistake I’ve made. Early on, I didn’t have an understanding of just how much your first idea will need to be iterated on as you rigorously test it and see how users respond to it. A dev shop isn’t well suited to be a partner in iterating alongside you because you are hiring them to build a specific product, not to work alongside you as you refine one. You want engineers who are on your team and ready to make changes on the daily.
Keep in mind that dev shops end up costing approximately 10% more than what they initially quote you.
I only think you should hire a dev shop, especially an overseas one, if you have in-house engineers (and at the very least a PM) to manage them. Also, keep in mind that dev shops end up costing approximately 10% more than what they initially quote you.
3. I hired a PR firm
While the people at the firm we worked with were lovely and helped us secure some press that helped with hiring, individual articles don’t get you that far. A better move would’ve been investing this cash in hiring someone incredible to tell our story for us on TikTok to build an organic, longer lasting following. Two founders that do this really well that I recommend checking out on TikTok are Caroline Spiegel at Quinn and Nadya Okamoto at August.
4. I got a WeWork membership
The room and the building were soulless, and I was locked in for a 12 month lease.
Even if you have a small team, the early stages of building a company can feel lonely. Being in an environment that is bright and full of energy can go a long way. There are many other options that are cheaper and way nicer than WeWork. If you’re in NYC, I’d personally recommend The Malin.
5. I didn’t document everything from the start on TikTok
This one kills me. I had so much momentum in December 2020 after going viral twice. But after that, I didn’t know what to post, and that stressed me out. It’s now hard jumping back into it because so much has happened since those first people followed me. But damn, I wish I could go back and say, “Girl! Get your ass up and POST!”
6. I didn’t have work/life balance
I was working 7 days a week, 14 hours a day for the first 9 months of building Flox. I became burnt out and very anxious. Now I take weekends off and actually listen to my body when it needs a break (what a concept!), even if it’s 2pm on a Wednesday.
It’s not surprising that I got wrapped up in toxic startup culture because, coming from a school like Columbia, it was the norm for people to flex by saying how much work they had to do or how late they were working each night. When I left school to pursue a business on my own, the stakes felt tremendous, so it was hard to unlearn these habits. My work is more creative when I take care of myself. I haven’t looked back since shifting towards a better work-life balance.
7. I was Flox, and Flox was me
This one is connected to #8. Especially as a solo entrepreneur, I quickly lost my identity to my business. This made me anxious and afraid of failure, because Flox was so intrinsically linked to me. I think this can be especially common for women entrepreneurs in certain areas, especially consumer businesses, because of the pressure to become influencers to help with your brand’s awareness and distribution.
Especially as a solo entrepreneur, I quickly lost my identity to my business.
You have to remain hyper aware that your business is not all that you are, even if you are posting on TikTok about your business journey every day. Now, I take an hour everyday to do something completely separate from Flox—pilates is my go-to.
8. I forced myself to go to networking events
While I love living in NYC, a downside of living in a startup hub like this city is how easy it is to find yourself constantly at startup events. It can feel like everyone else is going, so you should be, too.
I learned that most VC x founder events weren’t serving me, so after forcing it for a while, I stopped going as often. While these events can be helpful for networking, I realized that funds are going to invest in Flox because it’s a great business and they believe in me to lead this thing. There are many other ways to accomplish this. For example, I realized that I prefer to network 1v1, so instead of bigger events, I carve out time for coffee with people instead.
Jamie Lee is the founder of Flox, a social networking app building a better way for people to connect. She is also an A.Team client. This article originally appeared on Medium.