Jeff Devine

I only tell you what to do because I love you

What I've Learned Starting a New Company

Today is the one-year anniversary of my last day at Allied World. When I justified leaving my safe, high paying corporate job, I told my extremely supportive wife that even if this venture is a total failure, the experience and education alone will be worth it.

I wrote about my reasons for leaving, so it only seems prudent to reflect on what I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made. Granted it probably was not entirely wise to start a family and a business in the same year, but I would still do it over again.

Fix problems immediately

Once you know there is a problem or issue, fix it immediately or it will fester and get worse with time; doubly so if it is an issue with a business partner. Getting a product off the ground requires so much work that it’s easy to defer difficult conversations.

Read The Founder’s Dilemmas

I wish Noam Wasserman had published this book in March 2011 rather than March 2012. With each chapter, he reveals the pitfalls I’d already fallen into. I certainly don’t think I could have avoided all of them, but I could have avoided some major pain and would be in a very different place than I am now.

Find mentors who do what you do

I’ve had excellent mentors throughout my professional career. None of them had ever started a company or launched a product. I still leaned on these same mentors and they gave me great answers to the questions I asked. They couldn’t and didn’t give me advice about the things I didn’t know to ask, which felt like everything.

Find a mentor who is successful at what you want to do, she will give you the advice you didn’t know to ask for.

Shareholder agreements should be conditional

Shareholder agreements should have IF/THEN statements. Period. Starting is hard, finishing is even harder and no one will be the same person she was when everything was shiny and new. Count on people’s lives changing, along with their needs and responsibilities.

Your shareholder agreement should already spell out what happens to ownership when a founder decides she can’t quit her day job, or –for personal reasons– can no longer continue at the pace required of an early company. Noam Wasserman’s book has as entire chapter dedicated to this subject.

Stay healthy

There will always be more work to do. Get a good night’s sleep every night and go to the gym at least every other day. The biggest mistake I made was letting health slide so I could work more. No surprise: both my professional and personal life suffered.

Companies and products come and go: you have your health for life. New companies have ups and downs, for me there were more downs. You will be better equipped to deal with the downs if you aren’t sleep deprived and physically weak.

I’m still completely confident I made the right choice leaving my job and taking a chance. I would still do it all over again… only this time a bit smarter and better rested.