Daric Snyder, Founder of Baltimore Rex
Daric Snyder is a jack-of-all-trades technologist, digital designer, writer, and future interstellar anthropologist living in Baltimore. He's dedicated to creating great experiences on the web – and happy to talk with anyone about their next project. Daric is building a new local news product, Baltimore Rex, that makes it fun and easy to follow the daily news in Baltimore.
5 Things I (re)Learned Since I Quit My Job and Started A Business
"What the hell am I doing?"
I've asked myself this more than I'd like to admit since I quit my job and started my company, Baltimore Rex, a few months ago. I'm not the only one. Almost every entrepreneur I've spoken with remembers feeling the same way (or still feels it).
Trying to figure it out is equally scary and fun.
In my career, I've been focused on building great web experiences, especially for media outlets. I'm obsessed with how the web is transforming the way we live and work together. After finishing a major project at my last job, I started to think hard about what would come next. Venturing out on my own felt like the natural next step – though not without risk – the best opportunity for personal growth, freedom, and the pursuit of the work I loved most. I'm now consulting with established companies and start-ups on creating engaging digital products – and I've launched one of my own: Baltimore Rex. Rex is a simple, fun way to make sense of the local news in Baltimore, without clickbait or junky ads.
If you're looking for sage advice from a seasoned business owner, this isn't the post for you. I'm new at this, and it's way too early to know if I'm any good at it – but I'll share what I've experienced so far. I've probably read a lot of the same advice you have about starting a business. It all starts to blur together after a while, but a few things I had heard before crystalized once I actually went out and did it.
Be ready to be wrong
You have a good reason for starting a business: maybe it's driving you crazy that your idea's not out there, or maybe you want to make a living doing what matters to you, or maybe you think you can rake in the cash doing something you're good at. Whatever your reason, good luck.
Here's the thing: somewhere along the way, you've made assumptions about your plan, your pitch, your product, and your customers that are just wrong. It's your job to catch these mistakes, to own them, and to adapt.
There are two ways to handle this: you need to become supernaturally good at listening, and you need to be supremely honest with yourself.
Listening to your customers, your mentors, and (increasingly) your data will give you vital feedback that you can ignore at your peril. If you're not occasionally surprised by what you hear, you're not paying enough attention and not asking the right questions. One of the things I love about building things on the internet is how easy it is to collect quantitative data about how your work is performing. I launched Baltimore Rex as a daily email newsletter because MailChimp makes it easy to analyze how my audience is responding to each day's digest. Looking at the numbers is not enough, though. Talk to your customers often and build your products on empathy with them.
Likewise, you must be honest with yourself about your mistakes and your blind spots. Of course, starting anything requires a bit of a reality-distortion field: we'd all like to think that we can bring something successful to life through sheer power of will. You're still human, and the sooner you can acknowledge it, the sooner you can fix things that go wrong.
One last thing on this: I'm not on board with the "failure is good" adage/garbage that you hear a lot on the so-called startup scene. I find it off-putting, and I know I'm not alone. Failure hurts. The whole "fail fast and often" mantra reeks of unexamined good fortune: most people starting a new business are often doing so from a reasonably safe, comfortable position – just because it's difficult as hell doesn't mean you aren't privileged to be able to try. The business of venture capital only perpetuates this myth: VCs are happy to throw cash at 20 start-ups and only see 1 succeed – most of us can't afford that risk. The cliche of the "tech bro" and the real, problematic demographics of VC-backed companies are proof of this.
I don't want you to fail. We all make mistake along the way. By listening and honesty, we can try our best to avoid these mistakes from becoming failures.
Get your story straight
The first few times you tell someone about your business, you won't be very polished. I'm used to speaking in public, and I still felt like an awkward impostor for months when I spoke to people about Baltimore Rex.
You'll probably get a lot of gentle smiles and polite nods, but it's going to take time and practice to nail your pitch. Writing it down and rehearsing it in the mirror will only get you so far. Get out in front of real, breathing humans and get comfortable talking about what you're building. Oh, and don't forget that you're talking with real, breathing humans. A tight "elevator pitch" is nice to have, but people have conversations – work on that.
Have your shit together
It's grown-up time. If you're starting a business, you need to treat it like one. That means doing the paperwork and/or hiring the professional services that will do it for you. Create the legal entity that best fits your business. If you have intellectual property that needs protection, do it. Set up the bank account and the invoicing and receipts systems you'll need to keep your books and taxes manageable. Do whatever you need to do to become insanely organized (there are entire websites devoted to this).
If you are doing any kind of client services, yes, YOU NEED A CONTRACT. Don't take it on faith, even if you've known someone you're working with for a long time. The main thing your contract will do is describe what should happen if something goes wrong – and occasionally things just go wrong. Likewise, be very cautious about how much you invest in a project or a deal before they've signed on the dotted line. Of course, you want to do everything you can to impress a client, but there are people out there that will take advantage of your hunger, and others that just don't have the time to worry about whether or not you're getting paid. Yes, I've been burnt.
Here's the good news: a lot of this stuff is easier and cheaper than you think to set up. If you don't think so, maybe you should reconsider your plans. Many accountants and lawyers are often willing to speak with you informally for free if you're just getting started (in hopes that you'll come back later).
Take care of yourself
Maybe you can "crush it" for 18 hours straight, sustained on pizza, Red Bull, and dubstep. Most of us can't. Don't feel bad about this. You have to take care of yourself by getting the sleep, diet, exercise and emotional support you need to perform at your highest level. I think this is one of the trickiest parts of starting something new, and one that gets the least attention – especially since we have certain cultural ideas about how entrepreneurs should look and act.
I have cerebral palsy and walk with forearm crutches. This disability has always been something I've had to manage – but it has given me ongoing awareness of my physical condition. If I don't take time to stretch daily, I'll be in real pain and unable to focus. Likewise, bad eating, poor sleep and other habits that are easy to pick up when the stress piles on have a noticeable impact.
Burnout is a real danger to your well-being, so be on the lookout. No, it's not always possible to take care of yourself as well as you should, but even little changes can make a huge difference.
You can't go it alone
People like to point out that entrepreneurship is an isolating endeavor. It is. Even if you're going into something with partners, doubt and stress are mostly lonely, internal battles.
You have to push past that and find people you can share your trouble and triumph with. I regret not having more mentors when I started last year, but I've found some great ones along the way. A solid peer group of other entrepreneurs and like-minded people is also revitalizing. This is why Startup Soirée is an incredible addition to the local community. I've already learned so much from speaking with other attendees, and I'm continually impressed by the creativity, determination, and lived experience of those around me.
You're also going to need all the support you can get from family and friends. I could not imagine starting Baltimore Rex without the support, patience, good humor, and motivation of my wife, AZ.
I hope you feel as fortunate as I do to be able to start a business.
- Daric Snyder