From Corporate World to Entrepreneurship: What Have I Learned?

My first full year as an entrepreneur has come to an end. Our company, Lumoa, has now been there for a bit more than one year. In fact, we celebrated our one-year anniversary on 14th of November. What have I learned?

First of all, it has been a great year. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. It actually surprises me, how fun it has been. We started Lumoa with Carlos and Suvi after leaving Microsoft in August 2016. I was personally driven by a strong need to do something totally different after 12 years in large corporations. I wanted to learn new things and make a difference.

Since that we have launched a product, acquired our first customers, grown from the 3-person founding team to a 7-person team. It has been busy. I’ve worked longer hours than during my corporate years. But as an entrepreneur, it has felt like my own choice. There have been some tough days as well but most of the days have been good.  

Being a first-time entrepreneur, I’ve obviously learned a lot about business and, more importantly, about myself:

  1. The best thing about running a startup is the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone regularly. It is fun to learn new things almost every day. And it is extremely rewarding to be in a situation where I am regularly pushed out of my comfort zone. Because that is a way to learn more and even faster. 
     
  2. You don’t need to be a risk taker to be a good entrepreneur. I always believed in the stereotype, that risk-averse people (such as myself) cannot become entrepreneurs. I was wrong. Risk taking is not what is needed. What is needed is the ability to juggle many things at the same time without getting too stressed out and ability to live with uncertainty and constant change. While I am analytical and risk-averse, I still don’t worry too much about the future which keeps me functioning even when some other people paralyze.
     
  3. The team is the most important thing. If people are not feeling well, you cannot get too much done. If people are great and doing well, you can make miracles. Building a team, seeing young professionals learn and develop is the biggest joy of my everyday work. I am super proud of our whole team.
     
  4. Simplicity is valuable. Many companies have built complex solutions for simple problems. They are not willing to let them go because their middle management is very dependent on the complexity: a large part of their jobs exist to maintain that complexity. They have suppliers selling them complex IT systems and an army of analysts to make sense of complex data in a complex manner using expert solutions very few people can even access within the company. And often the status quo is not challenged because the complexity is a great smokescreen: very few people understand it and is, therefore, able to question it. Our service is an antithesis of this approach: it is super simple, anyone can use it and it solves a big problem in an easy manner.  
     
  5. Good advice comes from many directions. Most people are nice, and many are willing to give advice. Not all of the advice is good but large part is still worth listening to. We as a team have learned to listen carefully, consider and adjust quickly if the advice has been good. Not all entrepreneurs are like that. Some are stubborn and some just hate changes. We believe that the best way to progress is to listen, learn, adjust and move on.
     
  6. As much as I love stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging myself, I cannot make myself love mandatory admin work such as invoicing or sorting out the receipts for our accounting company. It is boring and drives me mad. The only good thing about admin work is that I can joke about how much I hate it.
     
  7. I like to make people laugh. A common laughter is a good thing in this world. 
     
  8. Corporate cultures are (horribly) different. I and other Lumoa co-founders come from large corporations and in many discussions with our customers that is a great asset: we are familiar with the way most large corporations operate. But still, even large corporations are different when it comes to their culture. Some are fast to try out new things and positive towards change. Some are the exact opposite: they are so afraid of making mistakes that they freeze and end up watching the world go by. The biggest surprise to me on this journey has been that this culture is not always visible to the outside world. Many times, it, obviously, is: in some industries, everyone is able to identify the leaders and laggards very well. But then there are companies, who don’t have a specific reputation, who can be even leading companies in their industries, but who still come across as the most risk-averse and slow. 
     
  9. Finally, we can actually help companies. The world is full of smart people with clever solutions to all sorts of problems. Still, the problem we are solving is so widespread in large corporations that it regularly blows my mind. So many companies collect feedback and receive tons of it but get very little value out of it. This is the best prize easily compensating for the all the hard work and long days: seeing that we can make a difference and help businesses in improving their customer experience.