Each founder has his/her own personal journey and this changes between one company to another. Being a founder helps you accrue knowledge by making many mistakes, pivots, and real-life decisions. Good or bad. Here are the most important lessons I learned during the process of founding, building, financing, scaling, and getting acquired:
1) Starting and scaling a company is a huge personal financial sacrifice. You need to be prepared mentally and financially because at some point, sooner or later, Founders always expected to remove themselves from the payroll. Why? because you believe in your company to such extent that you'll repurpose capital to hire talent, retain your team, or fueling growth. Founders are in it for the value of the equity in the long run. Some Founders go without salary or reduced salary for a few years.
2) Starting a company takes a huge toll on your family, not to mention also on your friends. Your personal relationships going to suffer because naturally, you'll spend most of your time on your business - working, thinking, and talking - and your mind won't be present. You can say goodbye to your work-life balance and most of your hobbies, leisure time, and naps.
3) You're going to spend most of the time on things that you don't want to do but the company needs you to do. Though you love building a new product or develop an innovative approach, it is NOT where you'll spend most of your time.
4) Employees are not founders. Managing people is really hard but it's a critical skill you need to acquire in order to successfully grow your company because every employee you add to your company is a value multiplier of your business that you want to maximize. People will look at you for advice, coaching, or how you behave and you need to dedicate some time every day to do so. You need to understand how to motivate different people in your organization (including yourself) to achieve the company's goals while achieving their own professional career goals.
5) Sooner or later you're going to need to fire people. Some you even like a lot. You might have even started your company with a childhood friend or recruited a friend from college to join your team. Suddenly, being their boss changes the dynamics of your relationship and if you or the cannot adust OR maybe they have not grown with the company, which happens frequently, you'll have to let them go (and most likely lose that relationship for life)
6) It's up to you to build a strong company culture. No-one is going to do it on your behalf. Strong company culture isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a MUST-have. Most founders underestimate the importance of culture in growing a company even though it's highly correlated with success.
7) Raising capital is hard, but using the money to create value and meet your investors' expectations and deliver on your promises is a lot HARDER. Most entrepreneurs forget that capital is a means-to-an-end. I.e. It's not a badge of honor but rather you need to use it wisely to create more value. It's your job to determine how to use that money - no one will tell you how to use it.
8) Entrepreneurs don't fail. Businesses fail. Some entrepreneurs start 5 companies at the same time - some fail (due to model, market, sales, product, and more reasons) and some succeed. Even though it is super hard, especially for first-time founders, detach your identity from the business helps you run the business a lot simpler.
10) Get ready for a lonely bumpy road that 99% don't survive. Most of the time you'll not be able to share your true fears, feelings, and thoughts with people surrounding your most of your day (employees, investors, family) because they look at you to lead them. Being an entrepreneur/founder is not as glorious as you think. In fact, it’s the opposite. If you do it for the reasons of being famous, or being your own boss or getting freedom, you're doing it for the wrong reasons and you'll feel more trapped than ever.
11) Time is your biggest resource and it's always scarce. You're going to be the bottleneck of your company because you cannot work 24x7. So you will constantly make difficult prioritization decisions.
12) It's not getting easier. Finding the right buyer to acquire you is a lot harder than raising money. Raising Series A, B, C... rounds is a lot harder than raising a seed round. And it doesn't happen overnight. On each capital related milestone, you're going to spend hours of conversations with a potential acquirer.
13) If you were lucky enough (yes need a lot of luck), success feels great. The road is long, difficult, and lonely. You're going against all odds and most likely, you'll fail and it sucks. But whether you succeeded or failed, you're going to learn so much about yourself, building a business, and being an entrepreneur that next time it's going to be a bit easier.