3 Lessons Learned from the Startup World

lessons startup world

lessons startup world

If you have been following my blog for a while you know that during 2008 and 2009 I worked for a startup here in Honolulu, Hawaii. My time at this startup was amazing. Not only was I able to turn my MBA internship into a full-time position, but also I learned a lot about the startup world.

Here are my 3 top lessons from those years.

1. Pricing and Negotiating “Eyeballs”

One of those most important skills that I learned during this time is how to negotiate prices, hourly salaries, and contracts in the Web 2.0 business world. Before this job, I had only academic knowledge about the monetary valuation models of blogs, Twitter accounts, online advertising space, and number of “eyeballs”.

Being able to learn by trial and error about what works and what doesn’t in negotiations of this style, has allowed me to have an edge over others in this field. Also, it was amazing to be able to apply lessons from my MBA courses (special thanks to Professor Rob Robinson and his course MGT 660: Negotiations at the Shidler College of Business). I was able to combine academic theory with personal experience to close value-creating deals with local, mainland, and international sites.

One thing that you learn very quickly is the difference between driving clicks to your site and driving conversions at your site. No matter how much you can read on this topic, nothing can prepare you to negotiations other than actual trial and error. Even if you’re provided a tiny budget, fight for the opportunity to lead on negotiations. This is a valuable skill to develop in online marketing.

2. Developing Eye-Catching Copy

Another important lesson was the importance of writing good copy. I am responsible for drafting the company newsletters and editing the company blog. It didn’t take long until I found out that what works on academic essays, doesn’t necessarily on the startup world.

To establish the tone of the newsletters and the blog, I reviewed the book “Permission Marketing” by Seth Godin (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and marketing reports from eMarketer and Media Post. I was able to establish our brand online succesfully and the proof was that we had Twitter account with active followers, the open rate of our company newsletter was about 42% (the unsubscription rate was only 2%), and our  company blog was read on a daily basis.

This is a key skill to develop in the startup world because as you see know, I actually make a living as a freelance writer. No matter the direction that your life takes you, good writing will always help you. This blog started during my startup days and 7 years later, it is still going strong.

3. Understanding the Product Development Process

This was a major lesson. If you ever want to get into the startup world, you need to get a grasp of how product development works. In my case, it was specifically app development.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re are doing app development in London, Honolulu, or Guayaquil, I strongly suggest that you review Steven Gary Blank’s book The Four Steps to the Epiphany.

The main idea of this book is that most startups fail to understand that the most common source of failure is a lack of customers and not a lack of app development.  Most startups are good at managing its product development, but terrible at managing its customer development.

Your app development needs to be guided by these four key questions about your customers:

  1. What are you customer’s top problems?
  2. Does the service of your startup solve these customer’s problems?
  3. If your startup was to offer its services for free to clients, will those client still acquire them?
  4. If your startup was to charge for these services, does it have a repeatable sales model?


No matter how short or long is your experience in a startup, take the time to develop these three skills. Pricing and negotiating digital media, developing good copy, and understanding the product development process are skills that are applicable in many other business fields and scenarios.

Image Credit: Heisenberg Media

Author: Damian Davila

Ideas and concepts from Damian Davila, Ecuatoriano thriving in Hawaii. Pro marketer and blogger. Find him at @idaconcpts on Twitter.