Written by Duygu Aksoy
Everybody ever wondered what is it like to be your own boss. Startup raising million dollars news pops up from here and there creating an image of easy, Moonshot success.
All of us have new business ideas that would "change the world" and "make it a better place" with your unique solution to the common or niche problem. Your startup idea can be based on intuition or forecasts and data. But overall you have a plan! Right? Trends change with time. A few years ago corporate clerks quitted tedious 9-5 work and opened coffee shops or became sports trainers. Today with the growth of internet and e-commerce market, designers and marketing specialists saw an opportunity for a startup. And I am not different. With MSc. in chemistry, I worked for four years in the R&D department. So for me jumping into the software industry and launching my startup was the best and the worst experience of my life. I firmly believe that knowledge and experience have to be shared, so let's dive in into the craziest couple of years of my life. Expect to read my mistakes, down-moments and how my team and I were able to overcome them.
To start from a right side:Learning is a key
Imagine that a few years ago I didn't know about the existence of Slack, Jira, Intercom, Canva, Calendly, Crowdfire, Upwork, and all other platforms we use at TDSmaker. The hell was real. I was a regular corporate worker, for whom those new startup tools were strange. I had to learn business terms from zero. Well, MSc. kind of help. In a short period of time, I learned to make a business model canvas, inbound marketing, growth hacking, and the list goes on and on. I know it sounds frightening, but I loved it. The best thing about being an entrepreneur is learning faster x2 or x3 maybe x10 times what you could have learned working for a corporation.
As an entrepreneur, you have to learn how to make your dream come true with limited resources but unlimited passion.
In 2016, TDSmaker raised miserable seed investment for developing a full version of the software. It was the first baby steps of my company. Financial constraints are like heavy stones that you carry while climbing to your goal. I've looked for free or the most affordable tools, startup discounts during this stage. Needless to say, we needed expert new team members who could help us to grow. Unfortunately, our bank account didn't allow us to hire new specialists. So we had to learn quickly new roles and become product managers, growth hackers, marketing specialist, customer support representative, social media managers. And the process of learning is ongoing.
While struggling to grow, we learned how to minimize costs to the lowest operational prices possible. I still hear how my ex-colleagues at previous work still keep unproductive work methods and have strict policies like blocking websites such as Medium, Youtube or waste time controlling employees dress-code.
Do you know that there are still companies that spend 2 hours stacked in Istanbul's crazy traffic to have a 30 minutes meeting on the other side of large town? Don't even bother suggesting them online session tools, as they always protect their methods by arguing about the effectiveness of communication tet-a-tet or the requirements of whiteboard for a more effective presentation. TDSmaker team uses more than 16 SaaS tools which increase our productivity. Looking back at my colleagues and my old way of working is giving me nightmares.
Yes, as an entrepreneur, I learned a lot about new tools and gained expertise in previously unknown topics. But self-improvement is the best accomplishment in my new role.
What I learned is not limited with new tools or new abilities while battling it out for success. Self-improvement is the best gain in being an entrepreneur.
Working from home
I live in Istanbul. It is a fascinating city with a rich history, prosperous future, and the horrible traffic. It takes 3 hours to drive 30 km, especially crossing Bosphorus Bridge. Commuting generally takes 2.5 - 4 hours per day. Moreover, traffic jams increase your stress level, consumes your energy and motivation making you fatigue all day.
Engineers (except computer engineers) mostly work in factories or company offices, located far away from the city center. A luxury of flexible working hours isn’t available. Long story short, now I work from home, and I am happy to spend less time stacked between cars.
Our team works from home, which saves us the extreme amount of time which then is reinforced to actual work. Also, we have a freedom to set our working time and space. We experience many advantages from working from home. For a while, my relatives and friends didn't understand that I worked at a real job from home.
I love this freedom of going for a walk, when I feel uninspired or freedom to work at night, as I am more productive. I was never a morning person.
Debureaucratize: goodbye to procedure hell
Start-up culture is drastically different from corporate culture. Some of you may have watched series like "Silicon Valley" or "Why him." Flat hierarchical pyramid, which is almost impossible in a corporation, allow you to make decisions faster. I remember when working at R&D department communication was complicated and bureaucracy was stressful and tiring. Every single movement was under somebody's control, and every new decision needed approval from a manager. At TDSmaker we cannot afford bureaucracy to stop us from innovations! We talk, share our feedbacks. So, if someone offers a new better way to do things, or better tool, devise, or change something else - we are open to new ideas. Long emails requesting to do a simple task, endless procedures cannot be applied to startups. Otherwise, startups won't create innovation. We cannot afford to spend time or money as corporations spend millions on "new technology" in R&D. Working at a startup or even owning one might sounds like heaven. But my goal is not to mislead you. Let's take a look at the other side of the coin.
Ready to work long hours during nights and nights?
Here is one of the biggest and common mistake managers do: "Boss keeps banker's hours." If you dream to work for your own company, prepare to work long hours. First years are the most challenging ones.
You will face underestimated legal obligations, market barriers, financial constraints, etc. Also, as a manager, you can't force your team to work overtime without extra payment. So, instead, you take those not delegated responsibilities and put extra effort into your job. I worked for more than 14 hours 7 days a week during the first and second years. Even today I work at least 10 hours for 6 days each week. It is not a fancy working schedule. Some of my friends think that we're chill and relaxed working from home, whereas in reality, we are working non-stop long hours to make our dream come true.
TDSmaker have raised follow-up investment. Unfortunately not even half of the amount we expected. So again we had to use limited resources very carefully. The small investment we've received didn't allow us to hire new talents for inbound marketing and as I said, I am a chemical specialist. I needed a marketing guru teammate. So here is the stupidest decision I have ever made as an entrepreneur.
I outsourced TDSmaker's marketing operations to USA based inbound marketing agency. I signed out with the agency too fast. That decision cost my team and me thousands of dollars. Depreciating Turkish lira worsened our financial situation, because we received our investment in our local currency. In the end, we wasted our time and demotivated the team. Till this day I am still angry with myself and the agency. Being an entrepreneur means making mistakes that cost directly you a significant amount of money. Moral of the story, being a decision maker brings tons of responsibility. Be ready.
Have you ever looked for an investment?
As I said, the first year is the hardest. I can not leave investment topic not touched. Looking for an investments includes never-ending meetings, pitching to potential investors. First, you should know that it is a time-consuming matter. Customizing a pitch desk taking into consideration investor's expectations and questions, driving 2 hours for a meeting, preparing a follow-up email and report, applying to accelerators, which also involves never-ending filling of tables and video requests. Suggesting that you were able to convince one or more investors to invest in your dream project, the next step is negotiations on valuation and share value. Usually, entrepreneurs don't notice the amount of investment and are just happy to receive at least something. But soon reality awakens them. Apparently investment amount was too small and are not able to grow the company to meet investor's expectations. You find yourself obligated to schedule meetings and send reports instead of focusing on the startup. I am sure I am not the only one facing these problems. The Internet is overloaded with tons of articles about entrepreneurs experience with venture capital firms and raising investments. If you are having troubles with investment, don't give up, every startup was there.
Just know that the news you read in magazines about millions of dollar investments to new tech startups may seem attractive, but it wasn't that easy for them to reach that level.
What are my last suggestions?
Personally, I don't regret leaving my old job and changing my career. I know I may sound like cliche advice, but I like it:
Life is too short to postpone your dreams.
Working is a big chunk of our time, so working for the job you love and passionate about is priceless. My goal is not to be a millionaire, well... maybe a couple of years later.) I hope after reading my story, you won't quit your job and radically change your life, because "that lady from the internet was able to." Understand all ups and downs. And goodluck with everything.