I turned down a summer internship with IBM Digital Strategy to launch my own startup, Homebuddy, that helps homeowners manage and coordinate their home maintenance. My parents were concerned, to say the least. To be honest, I was a bit nervous myself. But when I thought about what I might regret in 40 years—turning down an internship with IBM or taking the chance to build my own business—it was clear I had to take the risk and build a business now or I might never have the opportunity to again.
I used my experience in the US Army to develop and execute a plan to make the most out of this summer building my own business. I found that many of the lessons and skills I learned were incredibly applicable to building a startup.
Lesson 1: Backwards Planning
The US Army is big on backwards planning. You determine what your mission requirements (i.e., goals) are and work backward to determine what you need to do to get there. My mission requirement was to do the New Venture Challenge in Spring ’19. Working backwards in Spring ’18 I came up with the plan for what I needed to do.
Winter Quarter: I’d need to apply for NVC with an incredible team and product that’s shown product market fit.
Fall Quarter: I’d need to attract a talented full-time developer to cofound my startup with me.
Summer Quarter: I’d need to get initial users to get their feedback and iterate on the service.
Spring Quarter: I’d need to do some initial customer research and build a minimum viable product (MVP) of a mobile-first platform that enables homeowners to manage and coordinate their home maintenance.
Having this plan enabled me to make sure that I was focusing efforts on tasks that would lead me to my goal of getting into NVC.
Lesson 2: Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face
One of my first company commanders kept the above Mike Tyson quote engraved on a plaque on his desk. Plans are great, but when something goes seriously wrong you’ve got to throw the plan out the window and scramble until you get it right.
For me this happened when the friend I’d hired to help me with development disappeared right at the start of summer and left me with an incomplete web application with code that was impressive but unfortunately unreadable for me. All of a sudden, my summer plan of acquiring customers and service providers to test my apps operations disappeared with him.
I developed a new plan and refocused my efforts for the next six weeks of summer towards more of a technical role. I rebuilt the web application myself on a different technology stack while talking to homeowners and service providers and getting their feedback on the in-progress app. It was a frustrating situation to deal with but also a blessing in disguise—I realized that I could handle technical needs myself for now and focus on recruiting Boothies to work with me. The plan changed but it was for the better.
Lesson 3: KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid)
KISS is a common design principle used in US Army planning, stating that most systems work much better if they are simple and not complex. It’s also a principle I completely violated before the summer even started.
I initially chose to develop my platform using a relatively complicated framework called React that I had zero experience in because it was in vogue—instead of one of the simpler web frameworks I’d use before. It was a bad decision. Building my platform was incredibly tedious and led me to hire someone to build code that I was eventually unable to read. Had I just stuck with the simple frameworks I knew, I would have saved myself a significant amount of time.
Overall, I learned an incredible amount this summer—some good and some not so good. But more than anything I’m more confident with my leadership style and design principles as I get Homebuddy ready for NVC this Spring.