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What is the best advice for a young, first-time startup CEO?

Cathy Han

I’m a founder of 42 (Y Combinator W14), we’re a data analytics company. We launched at New York Fashion Week 2013 and TechCrunch Disrupt New York.

We learned a lot from YC and building our company, here are a few things I wish we knew when we first started:

  1. Determination is the biggest predictor of long-term success: Many inspirational founders shared their stories, including the CEOs of Pinterest and AirBnB. Nobody had an easy road. The AirBnB founders — with a company now valued at US$10-billion — had a famous story of hot gluing 1,000 cereal boxes to pay expenses in the early days. You can succeed, but often it is a matter of how badly you want to.
  2. You will grow what you measure: Take a sticky note, and write one goal on it. Be specific. Now place it on your bathroom mirror, so that each morning you’re reminded of your No. 1 growth priority. If you’re building a company, this should be a week-over-week metric such as users or revenue.
  3. Do not mistake activity for growth: Startup founders often don’t know what truly constitutes growth. Adding features to your product is not growth. Neither is getting a fancy office or going to a lot of events. Adding customers and building product counts as growth — that’s about it.
  4. The key to growth is progress: If you’re not moving forward, here is a way to get tasks done through a life hack called workstation popcorn. You start with a list of three tasks, each with sub tasks. You go to three coffee shops and only move to the next one when you’re done a task. Make progress each day and you win.
  5. The winner between the alligator and the bear is determined by the terrain: Not everyone is good at everything. Negotiate on your territory and play up your strengths.
  6. Make decisions quickly: This can be hard for first time founders, but remember that time is a cost. There are 24 hours in a day, and only about 10% of the information needed to make most decisions. Understand the magnitude of decisions you are required to make and prioritize accordingly. Train yourself to become decisive, so you can move forward with execution.
  7. Do not focus too much on competition: If I decided to become a basketball player tomorrow, do you think it would affect LeBron James’ career? Ignore the noise, because what others are doing is out of your control and they’re probably amateurs. Be aware of the players in the space you are in, but focus on getting to the top of your game.
  8. There is no substitute for hard work: When we first started market-testing 42, I spent weeks walking in and out of stores asking to speak with every associate and store manager. It was tough, but also gave me the most eye-opening insights. There’s no way around pushing code or making sales calls. The good news is that the tougher it is for you, the more difficult it is for others to replicate.
  9. Opportunity is everywhere: The first time I visited Silicon Valley I was very disappointed. There was no teleportation, no wireless ports, not even robots who greeted you at reception. Now I see it as great news, it means there are still countless opportunities for you to introduce ideas that will shape our future. Do NOT play victim (I’m too young, inexperienced, don’t have this or that) – just get building.

Good luck!

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