Why build a startup?
Wantrepreneurs: Have you ever heard a conversation about or asked yourself about why someone should start a company? Recently you probably hear more about Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and other successful founders than you do about actual “stars” like those in Hollywood. The rise to fame and fortune has drawn many to build startups, so many people that the term “wantrepreneur” exists. People seem to produce unending streams of content about wantrepreneurs such as this, this, and this. Fame and fortune are nice, but are terrible reasons to build a startup. So I asked myself: what are the best reasons to build a startup to me?
Personal Growth: The harsh reality is that most startups fail. Y Combinator picks the top couple percent of their applicants and supports them, but even those startups are not guaranteed success. For some people it feels impossible after facing these facts so they give up or never start. Others respond with blind optimism and simply expect their company to succeed if they try hard enough regardless of external realities. Of course you should believe in your company and that means ensuring its survival in the face of risks that may very well kill it. Neither of these are tenable, another way is to see an opportunity for personal growth. Even if my startup does fail, I will come out of the experience with a broad array of new knowledge and skills.
The connection between personal growth and building a startup goes beyond this, every day is an opportunity for personal growth if you choose to see it that way. Especially early on one of the key activities is continuously learning about your customers. As you learn what they will use and pay for, prototyping and building solutions to their problems is also key. Are there new technologies, tools, or methods you can learn and utilize to better deliver value to your customers? Great! This is a broad field of opportunities to learn new skills which contributes toward the success of your startup. This is open ended too, if you are looking you will find opportunities to grow. The more I challenge myself the more opportunities I find such as becoming a better public speaker, learning new programming languages, and learning to recruit/lead a team.
Passion: What keeps you focused on the challenges ahead? Why aren’t you working at a more stable job that pays better in the short term and most likely the long term? Passion is fueled by reasons so convincing they keep you going each time you get tired, distracted, or rejected. For some people this looks like Steve Ballmer yelling and running around the room.
Plenty of successful entrepreneurs don’t look like this, but I guarantee they can tell you why their mission matters. Passion needs a reason, and that reason needs to be able to withstand years of attack on logical and emotional fronts. I see myself and others losing track of time on the internet, and life is too short to waste even a few hours doing that. Those hours add up over years as lost potential to explore the incredible world we live in. My mission is to empower people to be more productive in digital environments. Long term I see technologies such as virtual and augmented reality with both fear and excitement. They will only amplify the addictive potential of our technology, and I don’t want to lose myself or others to this. Building a cure to internet addiction will be hard, but research suggests it is a possibility. This is my mission, my passion, and why I get up in the morning. Passion itself isn’t the reason, it is the means. At the end of the day after all the internal fire or cheering and gesticulating what really matters is what that enabled you to do.
Build something customers want: Can you build something that provides unique value to your customers? Making money isn’t a reason for building a startup, it is a byproduct of creating value customers will pay for. This still isn’t satisfactory as a reason to build a startup. You must ask why you can make something the customer wants. There are plenty of pieces to that, many of them revolve around having a competitive advantage. What can you or I do better than current or potential future competitors and solutions? Personally I have been delving into software engineering, psychology, and behavioral engineering for years. In the domain of productivity I have been synthesizing this knowledge to create software that can enhance the user’s productivity. More importantly I have applied this knowledge to build a prototype that I can show to other people. This allows me to verify that I am building something capable of providing value in an innovative and effective manner. Competitive advantage is far more than this, but you need a strong answer. I could spend all day talking about just this, but that is beyond the scope of this article and most likely your attention.
Take the plunge: There are other good reasons to build a startup, and I hope to see and hear the stories behind them from the awesome people I meet every day. What drives you or would drive you to take the plunge into building a startup?