What I learned co-founding venture-backed handy.com
I am one of the co-founders of handy.com, an “Uber” for cleaning company that went on to raise over 100 million dollars from renowned investors such as Highland Capital Partners and General Catalyst and got acquired by Angie’s List in 2018. Here’s what I learned from co-founding handy.com.
Choose your partners wisely.
My business partners and I were strangers. They posted on a Harvard discussion group looking for a co-founder, I responded, and we launched handy.com. Before partnering with them, I spent time with them to get to know them. I wanted to make sure that my values align with them. There are so many stories of assholes in tech, and I don’t have time or energy to work with them. So, if you are to start a company with someone, ensure you vet them extensively because starting a company is like entering into a marriage. You’ll spend all of your time with your business partners, so you better ensure you like them and that they are good people.
Communication is key.
School only teaches you a little about communication. You’ll have to learn this the hard way. I made a ton of mistakes with communication. I could be a better communicator. I learned the hard way to think before I speak. To rehearse the things to say before I say them. I even write down the things I will say before I say them. For some people like Barack Obama, communication comes easily. For others like me, it takes work. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must brush up on your communication skills. You will need that to resolve conflict with your co-founders, negotiate your share distribution, sell your idea to customers and investors, etc. The good news is that you can learn how to communicate effectively. There are a ton of free resources on Youtube that help. Also, I found the courses on Linkedin Learning to be beneficial.
Focus on the problem, not the solution.
What problem are you trying to solve by starting a company? For my previous company, we started with a solution and tried to find a problem for it. The build it and they will come mentality didn’t get us far. We sold the company for a fraction of a million dollars when it could have been worth multi-million dollars. Make sure that you’re solving a problem that exists or you’re wasting your time. Not sure if the problem exists? Talk to people. They will tell you.
Read the lean startup book.
A mentor told me to read this book, which made a difference. I built my previous startup with the “build it, and they will come mentality,” which was wrong. It would help to validate your ideas before building so you’re using your time effectively. For handy.com, we spoke with potential customers before writing a code and implemented an MVP after validating the problem.
Grow a thick skin.
You’re going to get criticized a lot. Starting a company feels like running on a treadmill that never stops. It’s challenging. You will have to have thick skin. You’re going to fight with co-founders. Customers are going to criticize you. Investors won’t like you. They will criticize you. It will be painful. Don’t take it personally. As Hillary Clinton said, when it comes to criticism, think about it objectively — is it true? If so, make the change. If not, let it bounce off you. No one is perfect. Be humble. Don’t be defensive. Be willing to change, adapt, and grow. Also, you might not be great at things now, but you’ll get better through hard work, commitment, and perseverance.
Do things that don’t scale.
Getting your first 100 customers is challenging. You’re going to have to do things that don’t scale. At handy.com, we did many things that didn’t scale. We gave people cleanings for free to attract them to the platform. We did the cleanings ourselves when we needed more providers. As the founder, you will have to be the salesperson when you’re starting. Don’t hire a sales team. Learn how to sell. You’re going to have to reach out manually to customers. Most people will tell you no. Don’t waste too much time on them. If you’re solving a problem that exists, then you’ll find early adopters willing to pay for your service. Focus on them. Read Paul Graham’s essay on doing things that don’t scale. It’s how startups like Airbnb started.
Take care of yourself first.
Starting a startup can be brutal. You are working long hours. There’s a ton of pressure because 99% of startups fail. Take care of yourself. Go to the gym and get some exercise. Speak to a therapist. Don’t work seven days a week. If your co-founders want you to work 100 hours a week, set some boundaries, and show them some stats about how working fewer hours makes you more productive. I learned self-care too late. I wish I had discovered it earlier. Nowadays, I do massages, get my hair done, go biking, and go to the beach to take care of myself.
Talk to a mentor.
You’ll need help, and that’s ok. You don’t know everything. Speak to a mentor. Trust me; it will help. I wish I had done so earlier. A mentor introduced me to programming, which got me accepted into Harvard. A mentor introduced me to the lean startup book, which helped me sell my company to a larger corporation. I saved so much time, energy, and money because I spoke to a mentor. I also made a lot of money because I talked to a mentor.
If you need a mentor, check out mentordial.com. You can book a call with a mentor instantly at an affordable price.
Weina Scott is a Harvard graduate and co-founder of several successful tech companies including venture-backed handy.com, which raised over $100 million from top VCs. Handy.com was sold to Angi Home Services in 2018. She currently is an investor at mentordial.com, a leading mentorship platform.