Dana Levin-Robinson
CEO and Co-Founder @Upfront

When to raise money? How do we reach our customers? Will it be hard to hire talent? All valid and important questions when starting a company, but surprisingly not the first ones you should ask. And when you’re building a company in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that much harder to know where to start.

When I founded Upfront, I had the idea and strategy for the company in mind, but my entire game plan had to be adapted in ways that I never anticipated when the pandemic started. 

If you’re a first-time founder like I was, spend a little more time thinking about the following areas:

1. Flexibility

I’d love to say that I planned every turn Upfront would take this past year, but that wouldn’t be true. We started as a website meant to share prices of wedding vendors, but soon realized that daycares suffered from an even larger data gap. There’s no way to predict the future, but you can stress test your idea before spending a lot of money or quitting your job. Users’ priorities have changed in the past six months, which is why it’s important to do as much user research as possible. For Upfront, we discovered that safety precautions were now just as important as prices for parents when selecting a daycare, so that’s a new feature we introduced to the site.

2. Legal Obligations 

First, check your employment contract for any ownership your current company may have over a new one. Generally speaking, as long as you are not working on the other company at the same time and the new company is not competitive, you should be fine. However, you still want to be careful about using any kind of company resource (e.g. laptop, cell phone) in your new endeavor. I strongly encourage you to have a brief consultation with a lawyer to confirm your current company can’t go after your new work.

3. Partner Up 

If you are a solo founder like me, look into partnering with a co-founder sooner rather than later. I really regret not starting that process earlier, especially as an extrovert who was used to talking to 100 people a week. With many of us working from home these days, it’s very isolating to be in front of your laptop alone all day. The best ideas don’t come from Founder A or Founder B, but from the conversations between them. I’ve tried most of the founder matching sites/apps, but had the best conversations from introductions people in my network made. 

4. Operational Setup

Don’t waste your unpaid time with logistical tasks like incorporation and bank set up. These tasks aren’t worth distracting yourself when you should be focused on the actual work, and they can be easily multitasked while working a full-time job. I also learned that while there are many options for both bank and incorporation, it’s best to start with the simplest and least expensive option. You can always upgrade in the future, but you don’t want to be locked into an expensive enterprise situation. 

5. Take A Break

If financially possible, consider taking a few weeks off between leaving your job and starting work on a new venture. Only when I left my last job did I realize how tired I was from three years of nonstop startup work. Jumping into another company (especially one that I would run!) would have meant starting out already exhausted. Best case, you’ll be running this new company for years, which means a few weeks to refuel will be worth every second. Taking a month off helped me relax and be mentally ready to start Upfront at 100 percent focus.

Is there something you wish you did before you started your company? Did you build or start a company during the COVID-19 pandemic? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!