The image above is one of the better sellers from my first business Smoke City (a name which is so cringeworthy to me now).

Below are five lessons I learned from that venture. I am by no means an expert, just sharing some thoughts and experiences that come to mind.

1. Trying to do it all yourself is impossible.

I’m all for trying stuff and learning as you go, but doing everything yourself will a) drive you crazy and b) most likely not work. I found this out the hard way. Besides outsourcing graphic design work, I did the website, marketing, financials, shipped every order, replied to every email, wrote business plans, pitches and networked all in the name of trying to launch a brand. Better to start as a team, separate the tasks based on people’s skill sets and build something together.

2. Market research is the most underrated aspect of business.

Or at least it was in my case. I did what I thought was a lot but in reality never asked the question “would you buy this?” Seems insane now. I invested in the product and then went on to find out that people who I thought might be interested, really weren’t. Find the audience and get at least a soft commitment to a purchase then invest in inventory.

3. It’s not about you.

Steven Pressfield said this best with his latest book for writers ‘Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit’. In reality, this applies to basically everything. I loved the idea of having my own business. I loved the idea of building a brand by myself. What I failed to notice was that it really wasn’t about me. The brand didn’t really have a story and had no real benefits to a potential customer. Sure some of the designs were good and the quality was great but features of the product pale in comparison to the actual benefits of it. When anybody goes to buy something they are thinking what is in this for me? Try to see everything your business does as an outsider, it’s difficult at first but I find it very useful.

4. Getting a Loan to Start a Business is a Bad Idea

This is an opinion shared by billionaire Mark Cuban although he said it a little less politely (“only morons start a business on a loan”). The key word here is to start a business, I’m not against business loans in general. There are so many other options out there and if none of those are available bootstrap the business like crazy. When you start, sales aren’t guaranteed but your loan repayments will be.

5. Sales are Everything

Cash flow, sales and actual product shipped make up for just about everything else. If like I was you’re not comfortable with asking for the sale, you need to learn to be. It is a skill that can be practiced like any other and makes the biggest difference to any business starting out. If you really, really can’t do it then one of your business partners better be able to.


Thank you for reading. I’d be incredibly interested in hearing what other people learned from their first businesses.Why not share some of your successes and failures below?