Lessons Learned from Year One

In February 2019, Jose and I launched ChipMonk from nothing. We wanted to create something that we could both be proud of. Something that ultimately helped others while also giving us freedom in how we lived our lives.

It’s been a wild ride thus far. In our first year alone, we sold over 50,000 cookies and we’ve seen our sales grow in the double digits nearly every month. Our cookies can now be found on Amazon, in a few local retailers in Houston (Boomtown Coffee, Nourish Juice Bar, The Rotary House Hotel, The Dinner Dude to name a few. Check them out!), and even some corporate campuses in the Houston area.

We couldn’t have done it without the love and support of our friends, family, and Customers. The emotional ups and downs have been intense, and we have so much further to go, but with the end of the year it seemed appropriate to reflect some.

Here are ten things I’ve learned (or re-affirmed) from everything we’ve gone through this year. While these directly come from our experience launching a new company, I’d like to think that many apply to everyday life. I hope that some resonate with you and would love to hear your feedback in the comments below. Here’s to a great year ahead!

1. Plan Ahead With Checklists

Consider Winston Churchill’s famous saying: “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” Going into a day without a plan most often leads to a day without productivity. Especially if you’re running a small business and have 1,000’s of little to-do’s popping up constantly.
The best way to combat this is to create a check-list of your to-do’s for each day. Preferably do this before you go to bed the night before. Try to mark out what items are most important. Ask yourself, “what one thing could I do today that would move my business forward?” or “what one thing could I do today that would make me feel like this day was well spent?”.
Make sure that thing is at the top of your list so you can focus on it and ignore the smaller things that won’t help you progress.

2. Use Credit, But Wisely

Getting a business credit card should be one of the first things you do when starting a new business (after forming a legal entity and setting up a separate bank account). Having a credit card effectively gives you 30 days of cash flow freedom. You can buy ingredients with the card, sell your final product, and then pay the card balance off with the sales proceeds.
Without credit, you’d be in the hole for a lot of cash before you see any sales. Why does this matter? Because it can help you buy in bulk which will lower your unit costs. Be wary though. You do not want to overspend on your card. Don’t build a balance you can’t pay off.

3. Automate Everything

To build a successful business, you have to realize that your business has to become more than you. I repeat, you are not your business. As a single human, you simply don’t have the time and energy to do everything. As your business grows, you’ll ultimately become overwhelmed and start to drop the ball on things.
This is where systems and automation comes in. You have to build systems to run your business for you. Often the first thought is that you have to hire someone to do things for you, but in this golden age of technology, there are many tools out there that can automate what you do. For example, we use one tool (ShipStation) to import all our orders from both Amazon and our website and to automatically pull the information we need to simply print shipping labels (instead of us having to manually enter shipping information for every single order). We also use software that automatically pulls our order data from our website into our accounting software (so we aren’t manually entering each and every sale).
 It can be easy to ignore automation when you get into the habit of doing things the same way every day, but you have to take time to assess your processes regularly and seek out ways of doing them more efficiently. Realize that your time is the only true finite resource in life, and it’s worth investing in tools and processes to save it.

    4. Value Actions Over Ideas

    My man batman has us covered here when he said: “It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” At the end of the day, ideas mean nothing if they are never executed. You can sit there coming up with a thousand ideas, a thousand “what ifs”, but the only way to build something is TO DO SOMETHING.
    Realize that mistakes will be made. You’ll sometimes even do the wrong thing. But you can always course correct. The key is to take that first step. Start moving! Get the momentum and keep it up. Learn by doing and don’t paralyze yourself with inaction.

      5. Network

      “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation” (Seneca). Opportunity comes from meeting new people. Always be open to meeting people, learning their stories, and seeing how you can help them. Make it a goal to go out for coffee or lunch with someone new each week. Seek out people who you admire, who have done the things you’d like to do. They’ll likely be eager to share their lessons with you, and, who knows, they may offer you that big opportunity that takes your company to the next phase.
      Do not look at networking as a simply “take take take” process. You need to be genuinely interested in people and helping them. Open yourself to the world with positive energy and the rest will come in time. Don’t think you can do this alone. Even if you could, working with others will always be the easier, more effective route.

        6. Always Take Notes

        I learned this at my first job as a management consultant. Always, always have a notebook in hand and take it with you everywhere. Meetings, phone calls, by your computer. Jot down notes! You think you’ll remember things but trust me, you won’t. Write it down. Even better, keep it somewhere digital with software like Evernote so you can easily look things up in your notes.
        Taking notes while in the presence of another also shows them that you care about what they are saying to you. It shows a level of respect and also shows them that you mean business and aren’t there to waste time.

          7. Take Time For Yourself

          Running a business (especially at the early stage when you’re doing most of the things yourself) can be brutal. You feel like you have no time to yourself and often your personal relationships and health can suffer. Avoid this by taking time for yourself and don’t feel guilty about doing so. Build in mini-vacations (e.g. take one weekend each month for a little road trip or maybe stay in an airbnb in a cool neighborhood in your city).
          Make sure exercise and diet are a part of your daily routine. Get lots of sleep. You may feel like time spent away from your business is time wasted, but, trust me, if you don’t invest in your well-being you will eventually crash. You need to be performing at your best both mentally and physically, and the only way to do that is taking care of yourself.

            8. Always Ask

            Do not be afraid to ask questions. Be direct. Often we’re scared of asking questions for fear of offending others or we simply feel awkward. You must overcome this. When meeting with someone, make sure you jot down (in your notebook!) or at least think through what you want to get out of that meeting. What information or next steps are you seeking? Make sure you bring them up in the conversation.
            Surprisingly, you can ask very direct questions and most people will answer them honestly. This applies to making business deals as well. When buying goods, always ask for a discount. The worst thing that can happen is they’ll say no, but, if you never ask, you’ll never receive.

              9. Learn To Teach

              As mentioned earlier, your business has to become more than you. Automation is one tool for doing this, but teaching others is the another. Do not assume that your contractors, employees, and teammates will innately understand how you do things. You have to teach them.
              Take the extra time to walk them through your processes. Better yet, write your processes down. For example, we have a manual showing someone how to make our cookies. This makes it so much easier when bringing on new team members. You may feel like it’s a distraction but taking serious time to teach (and listen) to those on your team pays dividends.

                10. Be Flexible

                This is something I personally struggle with a lot due to my excitable nature. When creating a business, but also in life, you have to learn to be flexible. Here’s a secret: things will go wrong. They go wrong all the time. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do when things do go wrong. Do not waste time and energy on getting angry or upset. If you can keep a calm mind, then you can focus your efforts on coming up with a plan for solving whatever problem is at hand.

                This is much easier said than done, but, trust me, it’s better to roll with the punches than to lose your cool when the shit hits the fan. The more disasters you go through, the better you’ll get at this :) Just don’t give up!

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