What I Learned After Building 30 Startups in 20 Years

8 May 2024

I built 30 startups in 20 years.

VC-backed, Bootstrapped, Apps, SaaS, B2B, B2C.

All Mistakes I Regret Making:

1. Doing Consumer Apps.

The Failure rate here is 100x of b2b rates, nearly a lottery.

2. Raising VC Money.

I felt like Marc Zuckerberg when we raised the first round. All journalists interviewing us. Felt like a dream. Eventually, most of these startups failed by being funded too early.

3. Hiring Too Early.

Previously, startups took pride in large teams - a key sign of growth back then.

Founders should do most of the work until PMF.

Employees and contractors won’t have enough love and passion for your project.

4. Ignoring SEO.

None of the people in my network did SEO. We all thought it was something too late, and we kept postponing it forever.

5. Ignoring Content Marketing.

Never took blogging seriously. Big mistake.

6. Social Media Marketing.

This is my biggest regret. I started using Twitter just a year ago. Got to 20k followers now. What if I started 20 years ago? Could I have 1M followers now? I think so.

7. Skipping Idea Validation.

I’d always assume for the audience. Anticipate what they need. It almost never turned out to be true.

My best projects were those I thought would fail and failed projects had my highest hopes at the start.

8. Hiring Managers.

I haven’t yet seen any useful manager in a startup. They might be useful for corporations, but for startups, I should have hired only doers.

9. Chasing Investors.

For every startup, I’d spend 40% of my time fundraising. I’d succeed in most of the cases, but at what cost? I haven’t done a single outreach to investors in 2 years, but I get VCs knocking on my doors because I have good traction, and they search for such projects daily.

10. Hiring Specialized Developers.

There is nothing less efficient than a team of specialized developers for a startup.

Today, I have 1 full-stack dev doing 5x more progress on a project than a team of 12 back then.

Avoid “teams” at all costs.

11. Hiring People I Don’t Wanna Hug.

My cofounder, an old Danish man said this to me in 2015. If you don’t wanna hug the person, it means you dislike them on a chemical/animal level.

12. Betting on Partners.

I have partnered up with large billion-dollar corporations many times with different startups. They promise huge stuff, millions of users, but end up just wasting your time, destroying focus, shifting priorities, making you spend zillions on ramping up security and compliance, and eventually bringing in no users/money.

13. Shiny Objects.

I fell for crypt0 hype. Got super rich, then lost it all. Years wasted. Almost got depressed by seeing how scammy and greedy humans can be, even my own partners.

14. Holding on a Bad Project for Too Long.

I kept believing in projects after years of no traction. I thought that one day, something magical would happen, and things would go up. It was just a waste of time.

15. Went to Tech Conferences.

It's a total waste of time. Most people there are the “good” employees of corporations who were sent there as a perk for being loyal to the corporation.

16. Scrum Is a Scam.

If I had a team that had to be nagged every morning with questions as if they were children in kindergarten, then things would eventually fail. The only good stuff I managed to do happened with people who were grownups and could manage their stuff on their own. We would just do everything over chat in sync on goals and plans.

17. Outsourced Development & Marketing.

The vendors were good, but the outcome was not good. Startups are so difficult that there is almost no chance someone from outside can do a good job for them.

18. Started With a Free Tier in b2b.

Free projects attracted the totally wrong crowd, who gave feedback that was only relevant to please the rest of the “free” crowd. However, “paid” users turn out to be very different and have different needs.

A few times, I started with no free version and had no sales, so later, I added a free version. But this was a mistake, too. If nobody wants to pay for my product, I have to fix it or find another audience for it.

19. Code From Scratch.

My team would spend the first 3 months coding basic things like auth, admin panel, cruds, etc. It was a huge waste of time. The moment I started using boilerplates, the speed went up 10x.

20. Spent Little Time With My Family & Friends.

I worked way too much and didn’t take holidays at all. This was very destructive to my creativity. Once I started taking some time off, I became way more creative.

Quality >Quantity.

That’s it.

I share my experience daily on twitter.com/johnrushx

See all my projects here.