I have long been thinking about writing a summary of my year to reflect on things and to be able to see how I saw the world in a few years. Also, if you haven't heard of me in 2018, this is the one article you should probably read.
As you probably know, I founded a venture capital fund, First Momentum, at the age of 27 in late 2017—at a point when I had not even finished university. Gladly, I graduated last year while getting the fund running, so this year was all about getting traction. Most notably this year, we managed to do our first closing and could since do our first investments. Personally, I started to lead the investing team at First Momentum, currently consisting of five people.
So here are my reflections on this year, my learnings, and my goals for 2019.
To keep things short, I will use a list to give you an overview of my 2018:
To start the actual review of 2018, I will begin with my main challenges this year.
First and foremost, the thing that was really hard this year was the switch from tech to management. Since I've mostly had CTO or programmer roles before, I always dealt with a lot of tech. This year, when building the fund I mostly did fundraising, consisting of calls and meetings. Later on, when looking for our first investments, I had to build a team, manage it, and still do meetings and calls. While I like that very much, too, my passion is to build technology. And most importantly, coding just feels like my personal ikigai. It doesn't bother me to be coding and thus working 16 hours a day. I don't get tired, I don't get bored, and I feel extremely satisfied in the evening. Even after 16 hours of coding, I have to push myself to stop and go sleeping to be able to retain my run the next day. With other work, especially management, it just does not feel the same. You don't single-task one thing, you're multitasking >10 things a day. A while I was able to maintain a solid workload without much coding this year, I just miss the feeling of complete focus and being in the zone for extended periods of time.
The main challenge at First Momentum has been the constant struggle to do the right thing. There are always more things you should be fixing than you can actually fix. Reid Hoffman's Masters of Scale podcast even has an own episode on it. It can be compared with several fires burning around you at once. While you natural reaction would be to try to extinguish all fires, your best reaction is to assess the fires and only deal with the ones, that will kill you within the next month, so you still have time to think about your actual strategy. In reality, there are so many distractions and seemingly urgent things that shoot at you every day. Usually, your reaction would be to react and deal with everything (put out fires). What you actually should be doing is assessing their importance and to say NO more often (letting fires burn). In conclusion, the challenge often was to act instead of react and thus have and keep a clear strategy. This takes practice, a lot of effort, and you have to remind yourself over and over again.
Most of people reading this will probably laugh. But age has been an important aspect of my life this year. Not only was it the first year I have actually noticed to age, but it was also an the first year not being a student anymore which also makes me feel older. On top of that, I'm the second-oldest at First Momentum and get reminded from time to time. Furthermore, its quite a challenge to stay healthy when working more than 60 hours over extended periods of time. To deal with age and health, I've started to do more sports, eat healthy, and sleep more. Not that I did not do it before, I now do it with more purpose and not only just for fun when I feel like it.
Because of the workload this year, staying social has been quite a challenge. I mean, its easy to be social during university: daily classes, lots of parties, enough time to socialize. But since the workload has risen this year, I have to actually focus on keeping in touch with friends for the first time in my life. It's just not as easy to have a beer or make a call after a long work-day.
2018 has not only been about challenges of course. When founding a startup, it's basically all about learning, fast! So here are my top learnings this year:
As a founder, your first priority is to act strategically. To do this, you need to have time, be relaxed, and focus. Like mentioned in my 2nd challenge this year, distractions are everywhere: events with pitches or networking, people asking you for calls and meetings, startup competitions, you name it. While not all of these activities are a waste of time in general, they can become one quickly. The one main question to ask yourself is: what is the best way to spend these eight hours? Is it really the conference? Or rather a one-on-one with a key employee and six calls with excellent founders you already know? So this year was all about learning to say no. Saying no to pitches where our target audiences (founders or investors) are not present. Saying no to calls and meetings without a clear purpose or benefit. And saying no to startup competitions without huge monetary or marketing benefits. This way, you will have a calendar with much more space to focus on the actually important things.
So after having cleared your schedule by saying no more often and by letting fires burn the question remains: What is the most important thing I should be working on? I don't know. And I'm often still not sure. I guess nobody launching a startup is and can be sure because of the intrinsic uncertainty. But what I learned in 2018 is that you can learn to focus on what's really important. I basically started to take more time to re-think our status quo, week after week. If you hear it, it may sound obvious, but things get ugly when you have a tight schedule, an unbearable workload, or deadlines to meet. But still: nothing is more important than to reflect and to re-adjust your strategy. For these strategy sessions, these are some of the questions I think about:
Beside these questions, here are some topics I learned to focus on more:
Naval Ravikant has great tweetstorms on stuff like this, for example How to Get Rich (without getting lucky). There's also a great overview article on Medium. If you want to learn more about strategy and deriving tasks, I can highly recommend to look into OKRs and everything around them. Also there's is a great episode on Masters of Scale: How to kill your bad ideas. And my friend Feliks has written a great article on strategy vs. execution.
My company, First Momentum, grew from five founders to twelve employees this year. While this might not seem a lot, it is hard work. Firstly, you have to make sure your company culture stays on track. While the founders may have a common sense of what the company stands for, new employees don't und you thus have to make sure you communicate these values well and often. Secondly, the amount of work required to manage a team is underestimated. You have to guide employees, explain things, and simply catch up with the emotionally from time to time. Especially when new employees join the team, your deep work as a founder is reduced drastically.
It's easy to bury one's head in the sand when working hard and to forget to look left and right. But in fact, you should do the opposite: Many other founders had the same problems as you before. So you can either try to come up with a solution yourself which takes a lot of time and effort. Or you can simply approach others and get feedback. The natural tendency is to come up with an own solution, but the smart solution is to stand on the shoulders of giants and learn from others.
Platforms, Services and Apps I'm using regularly
Thank god, it's 2019.
To improve my reflection, I have used YearCompass. It's a 20-page PDF with many questions about your past year that helps you to structure your self-reflection a lot.
This post was inspired by Martin Thoma's new year blogs and Mathias Ockenfels' first year at Speedinvest X. Thank you so much. I later found out that Tim Ferris is proposing to do a year-review instad of new year resolutions.