As the co-founder and CEO of Shippo, it may come as a surprise that I did not grow up wanting to start a startup. Back in 2013, I was stuck in a master’s program in Switzerland that I did not enjoy. By pure chance, I ran into an alumnus of the startup incubator Y Combinator (YC). He also happened to be a Silicon Valley investor, and offered to help me find a summer internship. I jumped at the chance.
My CV got forwarded to a YC founder mailing list, and overnight I had a bunch of interview requests in my inbox. I ended up with a summer internship at a fintech company called LendUp. I was in awe of the fast-paced culture, and I knew that I did not want to go back. So, I dropped out of my grad studies and decided to stay. Fast forward to today: Shippo just celebrated its 4th birthday and 50 million labels printed.
I’ve learned so much throughout my journey in becoming a founder. Here are three key takeaways that I would share with anyone looking to start a startup.
Just Get Started
The most important part about being a founder is making the decision to get started. After LendUp, I wanted to start something by myself, so I reached out to my now co-founder Simon. Together, we decided to work on an e-commerce store — a curated marketplace for emerging designers and artists from all around the world.
It wasn’t very innovative, but we didn’t care. We just wanted to get started working on something. That is the most important decision that a founder can make: the decision to start. There is no need to overthink it. You don’t need to come up with a grand idea. Just start working on something, and eventually, you’ll find the right problem to solve. For us, that problem ended up being the shipping pain points we experienced as e-commerce store owners, which led us to creating Shippo.
Be unapologetic about who you are. There are so many expectations about what the perfect founder should look like. I used to try to be like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, but that’s ridiculous and impossible because I’m Laura, and I’m proud of that. It’s fine not to be great at everything, but you need to know your strengths and your weaknesses, and then hire for complementary skills.
Being unapologetic also means that you won’t be able to work with everyone. Better a hole in the organization than an asshole in the organization. This is your company that you’re building and you’re defining company culture. Don’t end up building a company that you’ll hate working at five years from now. You can be completely unapologetic about the kind of culture that you want to build at your own company.
Take Care of Yourself and Your Startup
A lot of people think when you start a startup that you need to sacrifice everything for your company. And, I agree. It’s a lot of hard work.
But, you need to take care of yourself, as well, because taking care of yourself is taking care of your company. Make sure that you know what gives you energy and what drains you. There is no bad boss that you can blame for being miserable. If you’re not happy, you’re the one who can drive change.
Taking care of yourself also means it’s completely okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s smart to ask for help. I’ve been fortunate that I have a great group of investors, an amazing executive coach, and a supportive group of friends that I can lean on.
I also made the decision to adopt this grumpy looking cat. She’s really the grumpiest, this is her everyday face.
And every once in a while when I’m having a bad day, I see her face and everything is a little better again.
When you begin to get bogged down by the day-to-day activities of a startup, it can be challenging to remember to be authentic and take care of yourself. But, these lessons are key to avoiding burnout and finding longevity as a successful startup founder.
This advice originally appeared in my Y Combinator speech. You can find the full transcript here.
You may also be interested in the panel discussion I participated in recently on personalizing the e-commerce experience to retain customers.
Shippo is a multi-carrier API and web app that helps retailers, marketplaces and platforms connect to a global network of carriers. Businesses use Shippo to get real-time rates, print labels, automate international paperwork, track packages and facilitate returns. Shippo provides the tools to help businesses succeed through shipping.