What 30 Startup Founders Taught Me This Year

As 2018 comes to a close and as I reflect on the year, I can say that I learned and grew tremendously from the startup founders that I had the opportunity to work with. Whether it’s through the patterns I saw in multiple founders, or the A-ha! moments that came up for me as I was working through a challenge with someone, there were takeaways that made this year really important for me in how it shifted or fine-tuned my perspective on various areas of my life.

Here are a few highlights of the key lessons I learned while working with 30 startup founders this year:

Plant A Seed — Write It Down And Use It

There are people who read, and then there are people who read, write it down, and implement what they’ve learned. The former often forget the majority of the lessons they most loved in a book or article because of the forgetting curve, whereas the latter retain most of the information.

I ran into this issue of the forgetting curve when I wanted to ramp up my knowledge on various subjects for my customers, but kept forgetting the gold nuggets of wisdom I had digested only the day before.

I realized that in order to keep up my learning speed at the pace I was digesting information, I had to structure an intake system. To tackle this, I created a “Principles” document on my Google Drive that I can access on any of my devices. Whenever I read an article with some great takeaways I want to remember, I write it in this document. Or if I read a book with chapters of great information, I highlight my favorite sections and spend a few minutes at the end of every week transferring it to my Principles document while reflecting on how I can apply this information to my business or for my customers’ benefit.

If you’re serious about using the knowledge you read and watch every day to improve your business or personal life, take the time to write it down, reflect on it, and possibly implement it — it’s a seed worth planting.

Make Deep, Small Talk A Part Of Your Work Day

As someone who’s by nature an introvert, I have never been one to seek out opportunities to get into extended check-in conversations with people throughout the work day. I’m a lover of deep, uninterrupted work and try to minimize distractions whenever I can.

This year however, as I was helping solve some hairy problems with different startup founders, I could not get my mind off of these challenges and needed to talk about it. I found myself asking friends in different industries for their expert advice or having sporadic conversations about a particular challenge I was mulling over.

The value I’ve received from these conversations have been immeasurable. Its benefits have been beyond any workshop, book, or podcast I’ve participated in or consumed. Working in silos and thinking deeply about a problem has been a strong suit of mine throughout my life, but adding feedback loops and a spar of opinions to the mix has helped my brain work in different directions and ultimately upgrade my ability to solve difficult problems.

So if you’re an introvert or beat yourself up for taking unplanned breaks to talk shop with a friend, respect and accept it as a necessary problem-solving step. Sometimes all it takes to solve a difficult problem is for someone to look at the same problem and talk about it with a different intention, or to reword it in a new way. A different word choice or opinion may be all it takes to hockey stick your thinking and to get it out of its foxhole.

You Can Always Get More Money, But Not More Time

“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” - Jim Rohn


This is a pretty obvious one, but I truly did not understand the value of time and its value over money until I began aggressively working with my customers on their time management challenges this year. We all have a definitive cap on the time we have left on this planet, so why do we spend it so freely, as if we have an endless pool of it?

I spent this year auditing my daily use of time and how I can get better at using it more positively. I easily spent 3-4 hours in front of a TV after work, spent hours on administrative tasks because I could do it faster than anyone I hired, and spent an average of 1 hour a day on social media (which amounts to more than 45 work days a year). It made me feel terrible to know that I lose 45 work days a year that I will never get back to social media platforms that have a questionable impact on my life.

Now I only spend about 5-15 minutes a day on social media, outsource every administrative task to my assistant, and have traded my TV time for books and climbing. I feel smarter, on top of my game intellectually, and the best version of myself. I also have a lot of free time to focus on the growth of my business because I pay my assistant to do the administrative stuff (money I later earn back because my time has been appropriately invested in sales growth).

Whether it’s for your business or for your personal life, take the time to reflect on your use of time because it’s usually the one thing that’s preventing you from breaking through to the next level. If every high performer on this planet has the same time cap as you and me, the one thing we can control to get us from 0 to 1 is our use of time.

Are you a startup founder? Grab my Pitch Deck Checklist or my ‘Find Your Customers’ worksheet to kick off 2019 on a strong foot.

Sophia Sunwoo