Ten things we have learned about running a Houston-based start-up so far

RigBasket recently passed the 7 month-mark.

We’ve been reflecting on how we are a completely different company thanks to all the help we have received from the global entrepreneurial community, especially Houston. To pay it forward, we wanted to pass on ten lessons we thought could be useful to any local startup, regardless of sector in the first 6 months.

#1. The hardest thing about your idea isn’t raising money or stringing together technology. It’s building a team that works and understands each other’s strengths, limitations, and work patterns. It’s hard to come to terms with, but to have a productive workplace, you have to trust people to deliver on their own terms around common goals. The 10 Laws of Trust by Stanford Professor Joel Peterson is a recent book that focuses around this. I highly recommend reading it to better understand team relationships.

#2. The worst days in the office aren’t when you get completely grilled by business model advisor or technology guru…no not at all, those are the best days if RigBasket can be better tomorrow. No, the worst days are when you can no longer convince early supporters of the long-term value we could create versus settling for 9 to 5. I usually take the next day off to figure out what went wrong and what more we could have done. We have come to terms that often the deals we put on the table are not lucrative enough, that startups may not be for everyone, or people have life circumstances where they have to choose their priorities. We have much respect to those who know what they want already. We are still learning how to cope with these situations, but we now better understand the importance of having members who are actively converting the idea into a service. At all times, someone has to deliver.

#3. Trust people who have done it before, and say there are problems and better opportunities your team can solve with a different approach. The entrepreneurial world is surprisingly helpful, especially in Houston, a city that is often overshadowed by the likes of Austin. Little tweaks here and there go a long way if you are willing to listen to those who have been in your shoes. Pivot and pivot fast. “Life’s short”.

#4. It’s okay for your first prototype to just get the job done, and not have an amazing GUI (Graphical User Interface). It needs to be interesting enough to get you into doors to start conversations. After all, how many Salesmen go in empty handed? Overtime, your customers will refine your product, your perspective, and thus your business for you so you can build something of value.

#5. People are people. Whether it’s a small business owner or a CEO of a large oil company, most people are looking for value propositions that can help improve their organizations. It’s important you fully understand both of their needs, and provide them with the same standard of professional service.

#6. “Cash is king”. I remember when Katherine Crothall said that in my entrepreneurship class directly looking at me. It makes sense to watch every bill like your employer is going to reimburse you one day. At the same time, it is important to clear the mental hurdle of making money early. It really helps a team’s self-belief. Considering cash is king, it might be wise to make some friends in accounting, not named Janice of course (Reference: John Oliver).

#7. While cash is king, giving back is even more royal. Most startups are the summation of the people they meet in their early days that selflessly put in time to “fix stuff” for you in order for your team to succeed. If I had to ball-park a number, I’d say we’ve had over 500 people add their twist to the inventory management problem. That’s the type of social debt (not the software engineering term, but the sociology one) you will spend a lifetime paying back, regardless of whether a startup works or not. A Tanzanian entrepreneur recently tweeted about the importance of raising our standard of giving, not only our standard of living,and then pledging away half his wealth. That really struck us.

#8. Prove the concept…then build, diversify, and continuously test. This applies to teams, client bases, product line offerings, scheduling…everything. Getting it right the first time is a bit like stepping up to the plate against Clayton Kershaw with the mindset of hitting a home run. Bold, yes. Realistically, more likely to connect by bunting. Be grateful of what works early on, but don’t get comfortable once the first thing works.

#9. There is plenty of capital available for all types of ideas, but from different types of investors. With the JOBS Act coming through, capital is going to become even more available. Grants, loans, special business licenses, convertible notes, everything is there as long as you are willing to keep going. We could theoretically choose to crowdsource the end of global poverty instead of investing in the startup sector that statistically has a 90% failure rate within 5 years (Source: Forbes). Raising money shouldn’t be considered an achievement. Returning that money should.

#10. Patience. 

We’d like to thank everyone again for helping so far, and extending a special thank you to the Station Houston community.

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