10 things I learnt from my first break up at Entrepreneur First

Entrepreneur First (EF) is a talent investor which invest time and money into individuals to help them find a co-founder, develop an idea, and start a company. The program is backed by some big names including Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and have a stellar portfolio including Magic Pony Technology (AI, acquired by Twitter), Represent (social commerce, acquired by CustomInk), BloomsburyAI (acquired by Facebook), Tractable (AI), Cleo (fintech), OpenCosmos (space), CloudNC (manufacturing), Transcelestial (satellite communications) and many more. I joined their 8th cohort in Singapore with the goal of starting my own company.

EF has a very interesting (and proven) methodology of helping people “join as an individual and leave with a company”. They do this by first building a cohort of 80–100 people with different skill sets and create environments for the cohort members to speak to one another. Once you find a person you like, you “Form” a team with them and begin to work on your idea. If things aren’t going as expected or moving too slow, you “Break up” and form again. It’s like rinse and repeat. You keep doing this for 3 months and hopefully you find a compatible co-founder.

The process of forming and breaking up in great as it forces you to move quickly and have hard conversations which you otherwise would have refrained from having. It also forces you to think hard and deep on why you want to do something. So my first break up, while disappointing, came with a lot of valuable learnings. For context, I was in team for about 4 weeks and we explored a bunch of ideas. We broke up because despite getting along, we could not make as much progress as we had hoped for.

Here are 10 things I learnt after my break up which might be helpful as you’re thinking about starting a company or project

  1. When you have an idea, don’t keep selling the vision. It’s important to be able to do this, but once you’ve sold it, you need to quickly switch mode into the details and focus on “how” you’re going to get to that vision. I am good at the former, but not so good at the latter.
  2. Cold outreach works. You’ll never have a large enough network to be able to get answers for everything and thus you will ave to resort to cold outreach. It feels very weird, but it works so do it like a chore. Also, you’ll realise that people are much more helpful that you expect.
  3. Have tough conversations. It’s not easy and your natural reflex mechanism is designed to avoid conflict. But it’s important and it always feel great after you’ve done it — like a weight off your shoulder. The best way to do is dedicate a defined time slot for it.
  4. Before making any kind of commitment, check and recheck. It’s very easy to say yes, but know who all are your stakeholders and check with them before making any kind of commitment, especially if you’re stakeholders are people you’re new to.
  5. Venture capital is one of the many ways you can build a business. There’s no right or wrong way, but know which path is the right for the business you want to start
  6. You don’t have to be good at everything. You need to be a good at a few things and have the will to learn and handle the rest. So be honest.
  7. With colleagues, being productive is more important than being friends. This of course comes with a lot of caveats (no brilliant jerks) and you cannot take this statement too literally, the essence is that you need to act like a team rather than a family. Reed Hastings talks about the difference between a Team and a Family in his new book — strongly recommend you check it out!
  8. Something which might seem bad at a given point of time almost surely enough, turns around to become the best thing that could have happened. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of perspective. Pain is inevitable but suffering is a choice.
  9. Don’t rush into big decisions. Take time and sleep on them. Some of them automatically solve themselves and for the others, you will have a better solutions that an impulsive one. It’s important to be decisive, but for the big ones, take time and let your brain digest it slowly.
  10. Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean you need to share it. Think about stuff before talking. This is particularly important when you’re meeting people you don’t already have a long relationship with. In the long run, I believe that this doesn’t matter, but in today’s world with people being bombarded with content and falling attention spans, it might be a smart choice.

This essay is a part of my 30 day writing challenge. You can read more about why I’m doing it here