4 Lessons from a Sustainable Start-Up: How Not to Repeat Our Mistakes

From feedback to focus hours, these are our most valuable lessons, challenges and insights of 2021.

by MOYU, February 15, 2022


In life, you live and you learn. 

This is exactly what we, at MOYU, have done in the past year. In fact, learning from our mistakes has been crucial in guiding our rapid growth in a sustainable way. 

Therefore, we’d love to share our top 4 most valuable lessons and insights of 2021 with you. Lessons we deem important for any start-up, scale-up or entrepreneurial-minded individual. 


1. Frequently give and receive feedback 

We are often blind to our own strengths and weaknesses. At MOYU, we know that’s a given. Therefore, we’re actively working on cultivating a feedback culture - which represents the following philosophy: 

Honest and transparent feedback eliminates the time required to guess what people are thinking. This level of openness creates trust and accelerated learning.  

A few months ago, we started actively implementing this philosophy for the first time. Specifically, reflecting on the past half year and giving each other constructive feedback - both negative and positive. This resulted in some surprises among colleagues, discovering new opportunities for personal growth. 

What did we learn from this? 

Feedback is great, but why only give it after half a year of work? We should be giving each other feedback always and everywhere to accelerate the personal growth of the whole team. At the end of the year, there should be no surprises for any MOYU employee, what has been done well, what could be improved on, and what has been improved on. 

To put this into practice, we’ve adopted the so-called ‘4A feedback method’ - inspired by Netflix: 

Giving feedback:

1. Assistance: Feedback must only be given with the positive intention to help the other person grow in their role. 

2. Actionable: Your feedback must include a suggestion on how to do something differently. 

Receiving Feedback:

3. Appreciate: Realize it’s the intention to help you improve. So, resist the urge to be defensive and prove the other person wrong. 

4. Accept or put aside: It’s your duty to listen and consider the feedback you receive. However, it’s not your obligation to do something with it.

Using this model has helped us openly talk about our issues, while creating paths for working through them. This has made us more productive, and helps us reach our goals more quickly. To use the words of Reed Hastings - co-founder and CEO of Netflix: 

“Frequent candid feedback exponentially magnifies the speed and effectiveness of your team.”

2. Use focus hours for increased productivity

Our team has been growing quickly in the past year - also steadily increasing the amount of meetings and daily interruptions. After all, there are more people who need something from each other and who can also distract each other. 

However, what we’ve found is that meetings and interruptions prevent most of us from having adequate time to focus. Meetings and interruptions are productivity killers. For this reason, we’ve implemented daily focus hours: 

Between 9am and 12pm, it’s forbidden to schedule any meetings or ask each other questions - unless absolutely necessary. 

This helps us focus for uninterrupted stretches of time and get our most important work done during the first part of the day. So, if you want a quick win in terms of productivity: Use focus hours in the morning, and schedule your meetings in the afternoon! 

3. Don’t completely reinvent the wheel

As a start-up we have to execute a lot of experiments, fail a lot, and learn from those mistakes. It’s what we call ‘experiential learning’ - learning from firsthand experience. However, that doesn’t mean we have to experience all failures that we’re bound to encounter as a ‘rookie’ business. The biggest (sometimes fatal) mistakes we can learn from others! 

At MOYU, we’ve recently gone into the process of internationalization - something completely new to us. But, instead of taking the leap blindly, we’ve teamed up with a consulting company called WeGrow - who specifically help start-ups grow internationally.

For example, what we learned from them is the importance of actively cultivating a local network and business relationships. For this reason, we’ve traveled to both Paris and Berlin last year to meet with potential business partners and find local clients. After our trip to Paris, we had closed our first foreign business deal and a few others are now in the pipeline. Thanks WeGrow!

Another way we’re learning from others is by connecting with other (Dutch) start-ups that already have a foothold in foreign markets. For example, from ‘Seepje’ we learned the importance of gathering feedback from local customers on our products - as due to cultural differences we may have to change and adapt our value proposition for that specific market. 

Learning from others has helped us spare a lot of time and costs. So take it from us: don’t completely reinvent the wheel!

4. Keep your eye on the mission

Very few organizations know WHY they do what they do. However, knowing your ‘why’ is the most important thing for every organization to know. At MOYU, we aim to fight the polluting single-use paper industry and deforestation by offering a sustainable alternative to regular paper products: rewritable stone paper notebooks. 

A clear mission with a clear ‘why’. However, this mission hasn’t been very present in the minds of every MOYU team member in the past year. For this reason, we redefined our mission statement and presented it to the whole team at the year’s opening:

We’re dreaming of a world in which single use paper is a thing of the past. A world in which nature can grow and flourish. It’s our mission to not only offer a sustainable alternative to regular pulp paper, in order to protect existing nature, but we also actively invest in giving back to nature by planting a tree for each notebook sold. In this way and together with you, we can limit, repair and ultimately stop the damage done to nature.

By clearly communicating this mission, we’ve re-inspired our team to deliver quality work and it keeps motivation high when times are tough. What’s more, big business decisions are easier to make as we’re more aware of why we do what we do (e.g. impact over profit). 


There you have it: our top 4 most valuable lessons of 2021. Feel free to share yours below in the comments too, as we’d love to read them!


Want to support us in our mission? Visit our website and use the 20% discount code MOYUSUPPORT at the checkout.