By Jessica Stillman (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
Michelle You has simple advice for founders – just go for it. Founding companies is second only to, perhaps, sky diving when it comes to terror, which is why Michelle You, co-founder of Songkick, offers advice to those starting up that’s also remarkably applicable to those jumping out of airplanes – close your eyes and leap.
Catching up with Women 2.0 before her appearance in two week’s time at the PITCH NYC conference, You chatted about her experience as a non-technical and somewhat accidental entrepreneur, sounding a similar note again and again. Planning and skepticism certainly have their place, but don’t let too much thinking hold you back.
Not technical? Just do it!
You studied literature and philosophy and worked in publishing before founding Songkick, which means she has little in the way of technical skills to contribute.
“Every day I feel that that’s a weakness of mine, and it’s something that I’m trying to correct. I try to hire product managers with a technical background so that they can balance me out, and I took a coding class at General Assembly,” she says.
But she urges aspiring entrepreneurs not to let their lack of coding abilities (or any other gap in skills) stand in their way: “It should never hold anyone back because there’s always going to be stuff that you’re not as good at. Maybe you’re not really great at pitching your company, at fundraising, at user experience. There are so many different skills that you need. You shouldn’t let any of those prevent you from going for it, because there’s always going to be something you’re not very good at.”
Forget startup orthodoxy. Just do it!
Practical action is the antidote to not only anxieties about your skills deficiencies, according to You, but also to an overreliance on startup orthodoxy. Since founding Songkick, she has seen explosive growth in the London startup community.
“I’ve spoken now at TechHub and being able to speak in front of 50 startup founders based in London was just not an opportunity when we first started way back in 2007. It was incredible to see that support system for people to talk to each other about their issues and the challenges that they encounter,” she says.
But this growing awareness of what it means to do a startup and the hubbub around startups in general can also be a negative if you get caught up in the abstract theory rather than focusing on the nitty gritty execution.
“I think with the lean startup movement there is a bit of a religiosity about it,” You says. “People think it will give them all the answers if they just believe in this methodology, and I don’t think it’s quite as straightforward as that. I spoke at the LSE and these kids in the entrepreneurship club would ask me about whether they should pivot and what their MVP should be. It felt a lot like they were hanging on to these descriptions because it made them feel safe when actually nothing is going to help you answer those tough questions when it comes down to it.”
Only woman in the room? Just do it!
You is obviously aware of the gender imbalance in tech, calling it “impossible to ignore.” But she describes herself as oblivious to the issue in the very early days, a stance that may actually have emboldened her.
“I was reading through some old, old emails and I found this email that I don’t remember writing when we were applying to Y Combinator. I said, ‘I can’t believe how few of these YC companies have female founders. What the hell is up with that!?’ At that time I came from the publishing world, which is actually majority women, so I never thought about being a woman and how it might help or harm my chances of success. I just kind of did it.”
You may detect a pattern here. Skepticism and careful thought clearly have their merits, but be cautious not to let anxiety – about skills, theory or even gender – become an excuse.
“I am the first person to find something wrong with any idea, which may be why I balance out my co-founders in a really good way because I am like, ‘here are the 50 reasons this isn’t going to work,’” You says, “but doing Songkick made me realize how much that was holding me back rather than helping me.”
“A lot of success is just going for it and being able to take that risk and dive into whatever problem is in front of you rather than holding yourself back because you can find 30 reasons why it won’t work.”
Women 2.0 readers: How have you beat your startup anxiety? Let us know in the comments.
About the writer: Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.