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5 years, 5 lessons

This month, Jungle turned 5. During our journey of starting a deep-tech company in the Machine Learning space, we’ve grown as individuals and as a team, and learned many lessons. Today we’ll share the 5 most important ones with you.

1. Your mission matters

As a founder, one of your most important tools is actually your mission. If you have a strong mission, great people will join you and help you build the company and overcome its challenges.

Creating a strong mission is not something trivial, and you will need to spend time in formulating it. Moreover, you will need to spend even more time communicating it. Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s former COO, would start every meeting with the mission. It helped create a feeling of purpose and ownership amongst the team members. And that’s absolutely indispensable in start-ups.

At Jungle, we gave the necessary attention to defining exactly what we wanted to do (and what we’re good at). However, we hired amazing people before we really knew that, thinking that they’d help us figure this out. In the end, it didn’t work out with them. Having had a stronger and clearer mission would have likely allowed us to retain these people and make them massively successful at Jungle.

Don’t cut corners here! Take your time and discipline yourself in figuring it out and communicating it!

2. You marry your investors

As a deep-tech company, it’s nearly impossible to bootstrap. When Jungle started 2017, it was already hard. But more recently, the war on talent has exacerbated this to nearly impossible. Although there’s various options for raising funding, one of the most popular ones for start-ups is the Venture Capital industry, carrying some benefits like that it’s relatively fast to raise money and there’s quite some experience and network in the VC world.

Nonetheless, choosing them is extremely hard. At Jungle, we’ve had the luck of ending up with a supportive and skilled group of investors. However, this was no easy journey. At several moments in time, we’ve been close to deals, but dropped them cause it didn’t feel right.

In our experience, going through a due diligence trajectory -even though often being time consuming- can actually be a useful exercise to see how you and the investor work together. Doing the deal is a stressful trajectory, and it’s therefore guaranteed to put some strain on the relationship. Observe both the behaviour of the investor as well as your own during this time. It will be a great indicator for your future collaboration.

And yes, this also means that if it doesn’t go well, you should back out. Even if it’s at the 11th hour, and even if you’ve sunk significant time and/or money into this. A bad marriage will have an effect throughout your company that you are unlikely to be able to reverse.

3. Avoid Start-up Washing

The start-up ecosystem is a vibrant one. It moves fast, contains many interesting people, and most of all, there seems to be opportunities at every turn. However, your time is the most scarce resource and valuable asset that you have, and you should care for it. After all, money can’t buy you more time.

It’s easy to fall in love with the lifestyle of start-ups, especially when surrounding yourself with likeminded people. The freedom of doing your own thing is incredible. However, know that there’s entire industries built around targeting people like you. One of our dear friends and former Jungler would refer to this as Start-up Washing.

So should I lock myself in a room until my product is out? No, of course not. Your company, your product, and you are all shaped by the interactions that you experience during your journey. And many of those are a necessity for you to reach your goal.

Nonetheless, it’s a good habit to critically review why you are going to that event, what you expect to learn in that accelerator, what this meeting will get you? If you cannot come up with a strong answer what something adds to your bottom line, decline it.

4. Founder Time

As founders, you easily get absorbed in all kinds of initiatives, be it internal or external to your company (see the previous point). One of the convenient things that was easily sacrificed at Jungle was our founder time, due to the feeling that you’re “probably aligned on things anyway”. Until you find out that you weren’t. And this is dangerous for various reasons.

First of all, it’s frustrating personally. In your journey, you’ll have to continuously overcome problems. The founder relation is often considered a safe space, whilst you are solving other issues. Finding out that you’re not aligned can therefore feel like a big setback. Conversely, having a healthy and strong relationship with your co-founder(s) makes you feel empowered and better able to overcome the challenges ahead.

Second of all, your team will suffer under this. They will get different instructions or guidance from different founders, causing them to waste time and get frustrated in the process. If not taken care of in the long term, they may actually conclude that the lack of alignment is a hazard to the success of the company, and leave.

As they teach at Y Combinator; there’s only two reasons a start-up fails: running out of money or founder conflict. Make sure that you do everything to prevent the second one (and also the first one).

5. Enjoy the Opportunity

Let’s be honest, it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to start a start-up or join one early stage. It means that you are able to take more risk in your life than others.

If there’s one thing to keep reminding yourself and your team of every day it’s this. During the adventure, you’ll find yourself tired, insecure, and maybe even wishing you had chosen that comfy well-paid tech job.

But the truth is that you are incredibly lucky. Lucky to be in this position. To have the freedom to chase your own dreams, to be able to experiment, to be able to learn and grow in a space that you define yourself. This is unique, and -depending on your path ahead- you may never encounter it again!

And even if things go South (statistically, most start-ups do after all), don’t forget about all the incredible (life) learnings that you’ve been able to master during the adventure, and all the highs (and lows) that you’ve been through with your team and how those have shaped you and them.

It has been a truly amazing journey in the Jungle. Not an easy one for sure, but that also contributes to the adventure!

Looking back at our adventure, we’re grateful for all the people who’ve helped us and been a part of it. It’s been quite a ride, and we’ve come far during this time. Looking forward, we can’t wait to see which lessons we’ll learn in Jungle’s next 5 years!

Alex & Silvio

Jungle co-founders

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