Letter to a Young Supper

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What follows is only the personal opinion of Morgan from Gift Pinpoint (7.2) and represents only the opinion of Morgan, no one else but Morgan! Hat Tip: Morgan wishes to thank the best pundit for founders, Virgil, whose advice on start-ups and innovation is awesome; in particular, he recommends Virgil’s Aeneid, the story of an up-and-coming entrepreneur struggling to become the founder of a city.

Dearest Supper Freshmen,

Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won’t be here in 6 months. Maybe it’ll be you, in the Bay Area, raising your first round. Or maybe it’ll be the guy next to you, while you’ve just burned yourself out, after making one too many bad decisions (bad decisions compound!). Or maybe — and this is my prediction for you, yes you — you’ll still be here, having just hit the key metric of being ramen profitable, and existentially contemplating your next steps in the hardest of all positions: the not obvious success, nor the obvious failure. What to do?

As a Supper just slightly ahead of you, I have some advice for you, in order to make the best of your time here. But remember: my advice is worth what you’re paying for it, which is $0 (both in USD and CLP!). Since this advice is worth $0, I encourage you to ignore it. These thoughts, like graduation speeches, are completely and utterly obvious, not to mention self-evident (wait, I did mention it!): but yet, advice so obvious does bear repeating:

1.) Remember that we are all guests of the wonderful people of Chile, here at their very generous invitation. We must remember that and honor that every second. Treat every dollar as the wonderful gift it is, and be thankful for it — and show them our thanks.

2.) The best way to show thanks is to show humility and gratitude and try to give back, by helping Chile reach its aspirations to be The Center of technological innovation in Latin America — while staying focused on your mission, bumps and all.

3.) There will be bumps: and expecting them, and treating them with a smile, is half the battle.

4.) Get to know key words like “trámites” (the word means something like, “a probably-useless piece of paperwork that a someone is forcing you to do for G-d knows what reason.”) But remember at every moment that, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”: this is the downside to getting an amazing opportunity and non-trivial money. Take the good with the bad, and — again — stay focused on your mission, with a smile.

5.) Startup Chile can be as awesome as you want. The limiting factor here is YOU. Yes, you! You want to meet amazing people: GO FIND THEM. They’re here, but they’re not standing at the entrance to CMI waving a flag. Make the effort. You want to meet an amazing physicist (truly world-class, he’ll blow your mind!)? Go find Alvaro. An over-the-top genius game designer? Go find Neil. The branding expert who helped brand a few of the biggest names you have in your house? Go find Carl. Amazing Estonian speakers? Go find The Estonian Girls. You want to meet an amazing marketer? Come talk to me, obviously! And so forth. We’re here — and many more — and your challenge is to find us.

6.) Or don’t. You don’t need to take advantage of all the awesome people. But… tempus fugit. Before you know it, it’ll be your last reimbursement meeting, the goodbye parties, the wondering, “whoa, what should I do with my life now?” dilemmas that you still think there is an answer to. But if you don’t take advantage of it, you will have wasted your time here. You’re all grown up, you’re a big boy now: there is no teacher to force you to memorize all 4,042 lines of Hamlet or to eat your broccoli. You can do the minimum required, or hit a home-run, to mix metaphors. But it is a cop-out, and it is false and misleading, to blame your wasting 6 months on anyone other than yourself. Just be conscious of this.

7.) In other words, SUP is a lot like college, at least an Ivy League college. This is both good and bad. It’s good because of the incredible people and opportunities. It’s bad because, there’s no one to hold your hand and therefore, your own success or failure is 100% in your own hands: no one forces you to take the awesome opportunities. Most people, at college, take Psych 101 with 500 other people in the class, rather than seek out the world famous professor and ask him to do an independent study. But be the one guy who does, or else you’ll miss the whole point.

8.) Remember the annoying Frat Boys at college? Yeah, there are a few of those, too.

9.) CMI can be what you make it: it’s putty. You want it to be the Frat House for when you’re feeling social? Great. You want it to be a place of quiet focus? Great. Want to start a discussion group about one particular aspect of building a company and meet there every week? Great. Turn it into what you want it.

10.) Sweat the small stuff. You forget the small print of the RVA points or reimbursements, and you’re asking for trouble! Read all small print!

11.) Know your objective — and realize that achieving any objective whatsoever ENTAILS TRADE-OFFS. Ask yourself, “what am I going to trade-off?”. You can go out for drinks with everyone tonight… or work on your beta. Or maybe it’s the exact opposite: you can meet some critical people who will help give you the guidance you need, or you can just repeat the same hitting-your-head-against-the-wall that you had been doing for the last weeks. Every decision has a trade-off, in the short-term and the middle-term. Remember them.

12.) Tempus Fugit. I did say that already, right?

13.) Mao said that “a revolution is not a dinner-party.” I’d say that “building a company is not eating an ave-palta sandwich.” It’s hard work and, if you do it right, there will be a lot of pain. Yes, there will be pain if you do it right: as you start making lots of money, your friends will get jealous. People will cheat you. To succeed, even to merely survive, you’ll need to make some very painful hard decisions. Be emotionally and psychologically prepared.

14.) Ave-palta sandwiches are everywhere and they’re the best. Chicken sandwich mixed with avocados. Palta — avocado — will become your favorite food.

15.) The single most common cause of startups failing is not the competition nor the product, but it is that the TEAM COLLAPSES. Keep your team strong. Deal with the small team issues when they’re still very small, before they become big. Is anyone on the team not keeping up? Too distracted? Deal with it now. Prioritize keeping your team focused, excited, optimistic, ready for the fight.

16.) And make sure that you keep YOURSELF focused, excited, optimistic, ready for the fight. Building a company is a race–but not a sprint, but a marathon. The hardest part in building a company isn’t the business decisions (when you’re honest with yourself about all the factors, they’re usually pretty self-evident); but it’s your own psychology. Possunt quia posse videntur!!!

17.) To make your company awesome, you need three things: obsession, obsession, obsession. How obsessed are you? If you’re not obsessed enough, then go eat some ave palta sandwiches.

18.) SUP is, in a way, a lot like building a company in and of itself: the resources are here in front of you. It’s up to you to make it what you will.

19.) Enjoy Santiago for it’s strengths: tranquility, and a hard-working and honest culture, surrounded by nature. Be a part of place that is so up-and-coming so you can one day (forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit) you will be able to say to your grandchildren, “way back in the day….”

20.) It’s never too early to be organized with your paperwork. Save your receipts. Get everything signed. Ask lots of questions.

21.) Keep your eye on the ball. Of all the SUP companies I’ve known, some succeeded wildly, and some failed. Here’s the pattern I’ve noticed: the ones that succeeded kept their eye on the ball, made the trade-offs and hard decisions, grappled with the pain, overcame the problems. They were constantly focused on the biggest problems at hand, and how to solve them. The ones that failed were the same ones that spent their 6 months wavering on everything in their mind, wrapped up in their own issues, letting the problems stop the momentum.

22.) Ask advice. But ask for advice from the right people. Ignore all advice from the wrong people. Experto credite — but the hard part is to discover who is the right person to believe! Remember, different people will give you conflicting advice, so you’ll need to figure out which one to follow.

23.) Luck doesn’t just happen; luck is created. Create your own luck. Reach out to people who can help. Destroy your own fear and your own shame and the shy side of your personality.

24.) But never, ever confuse “networking” with “working.” Both have their time and their place; but they are very different creatures. Know that there’s a time and place for both.

25.) Keep an open mind to possibilities. You might meet someone and fall in love and stay here forever — that’s happened to more than one Supper I know. Or someone to join your team, who revolutionizes your company and product and takes it to the next level with you!

26.) Tempus Fugit. Enough said.

27.) Before you spend four gazillion hours building something… be sure that it’s something that people will PAY YOU MONEY FOR. So go make sales BEFORE YOUR PRODUCT EVEN EXISTS. If you can’t get anyone willing to commit money to buy it — even if it doesn’t yet exist — then don’t build it, and instead, change your business model. (Obviously, don’t bill or collect money or sign a contract, if you don’t yet have anything to sell: do it all, up until that point.) If you don’t having paying clients, you’re not yet a real company. Remember that “an awesome product” is completely different from “something that someone will pay you for.” Too many “start-ups” fail because they spend all their time, money, and emotional energy building something that either they have no way to sell or that no one wants to buy in that form.

28.) Set your own arbitrary rules about working — and keep to them. Choose what days and hours to go to CMI, and never break them. Create your own rituals. It keeps you sane and healthy. Remember that, making money is the reward for hard-work and discipline.

29.) One of your rituals should be something that you do, all alone, one afternoon every week, out of your apartment. Just you and your thoughts, outside. It keeps you sane and healthy, twice over.

30.) Enjoy doing the RVA activities: they’re not a bug, they’re a feature. This is our way of giving back to Chile to thank them for inviting us into their home. Spread the word of entrepreneurship, and help Chile turn itself into an entrepreneurial capital.

31.) Get started with RVA points early. It’s not as confusing as it seems.

32.) Ignore the fads and fleeting fashions. Yes, even entrepreneurs have momentary fads as well.

33.) Take risks — but think really really hard through the “unknown unknowns,” the potential downsides, and come up with creative ways to minimize them: audacibus annue coeptis. This is the hardest intellectual challenge for you: but it’s the most important. Your only three options are: don’t take risks (and you will fail); take risks, but don’t protect the most likely downside (you will most likely fail, but you might succeed); or take risks, and protect the most likely downside (then you will be much more likely to succeed).

34.) An entrepreneur is someone who creates something out of nothing. Remember that your job is to create something out of nothing. And remember that it’s really, really, really hard; if it’s really easy, then either you’re lucky (hopefully) or you’re doing something wrong (hopefully not, but more likely). If we believe in the God of Statistics, most of you will fail. Ask yourself, “what can you do to be one of the ones who doesn’t fail?”. If it were easy, everyone would be a self-made multi-millionaire. But very few people are.

35.) What is that really really hard business decision you need to make, that — deep, down, inside — you’re just really scared to, because it will be painfully hard? “Just do it” as the marketer says today, or degeneres animos timor arguit as they used to say. And remember: if not now, in the most supportive environment, then you never will — it only gets harder from here.

36.) Seek out and find the experts within every domain you touch, while you’re here. It will be worth your while. What domains are you in? Spend your intellectual energy separating the people who know what they’re talking about, from those who don’t. That is probably the best and most important resource SUP brings: the fantastic people.

37.) Choose to live the cliche. Cliched advice, like everything I’m writing here, is very easy to say. But it’s hard to do. (That’s probably another cliche!). You actually know the right thing to do, so force yourself to do it.

38.) Tempus fugit.

Questions? Want to say ‘hi’? Discuss startup advice from the ancients? Or want to discuss down-and-dirty marketing? Email me: morgan@giftpinpoint.com

Morgan (the marketer, and the super-nerd, from 7.2!)
Gift Pinpoint