“You’re in a startup? That sucks.”
I work inside a startup accelerator in downtown San Jose. There are lots of perks. 805 and Lagunitas on tap, pool table, ping pong table, conference rooms, snacks, espresso machine, the works. I’ve become pretty familiar with all the startups inside the office. Not because I actually talk to them, but because I hear them pitching their idea on the phone every 10 seconds throughout the day. There are a lot of things I’ve learned from being in this atmosphere of “disruptive innovation” (sarcasm).
People try way too hard to come up with an idea
There are too many wantrepreneurs that get into the startup lifestyle because they want to “change the game”. In reality, coming up with an entirely new idea that’ll “disrupt” the market and overall lifestyle we lavish in is almost an impossible task. Just take a look at the modern-day powerhouse companies.
Yelp started as a website where friends could recommend businesses to others. Uber was a luxury black-car service and Flickr was an online role-playing game (what). Yelp pivoted into a multi-million dollar crowd-sourced review site/app and Uber into a logistics company boasting from car rides to delivered ice cream and food. These companies that are now valued at millions of dollars didn’t come up out of nowhere, they started on a micro detail that they simplified and pivoted off that platform.
Bring the market value and the rest will happen on its own.
I’ve seen so many people in the startups around me use their one and only source within their market to try and build a network around that plug. One of two outcomes will come from this if you aren’t careful with utilizing your network(s).
- You’ll ruin his or her reputation (and yours if that matters).
- You’ll lose the one and only connect you have.
“Build your network” is a cliche saying in the biz industry for a reason. Just because you have a huge plug into your market doesn’t mean you’re done. Instead, strategize how to use your plug. Can they get you on the list to the next big event so you can get the opportunity to meet others in the same industry? Can they give you advice on where and when to meet important people so you can pitch? Find a way to utilize your connect without making him or her your biz wingman. Not every network opportunity has to start with “Haaave you met _____?” (I really like HIMYM.)
There’s no grind
Startups aren’t the easy-going and comfortable atmosphere that movies always seem to portray. You grind until you make it. I see so many of these “entrepreneurs” working 9–5 or 12–8, going home, and relaxing. If your company means that much to you, there is no relaxation. There’s no time off from working to get your MVP done. There’s no down time when you’re prepping your platform pitch for a networking event.
There’s only so many things you can control when you’re a startup. How much you choose to work and burn rate are one of the few. The reason successful companies are successful is because they take initiative on the things they can control and manipulate. Working on your product non-stop is more proactive than worrying about things you can’t control.
Successful people tend to fail
The first week at my accelerator, I took initiative to introduce myself to everyone in the office. There were past employees of Cisco, Facebook, Apple, etc. All successful people from successful companies that are not doing so hot in the startup industry. Why? Because succeeding in a startup is not even comparable to succeeding at school or an IPO company.
A startup is a leap of faith. So is joining a startup. Nothing is certain and nothing is given. In fact, 90% of startups fail (I’m in that majority). Scared yet? I’d be surprised if you weren’t. From whatever background you may be from or whatever super team you think you’ve put together, there are so many variables that come with a startup that it’s almost impossible to gauge the future. But that’s the beauty of it. The expectation of failure is almost motivating. A startup can take over your life, in all aspects. But there is something I’ve learned that is outside business, product, and development: your startup is only a chapter of your life. It might succeed. It might fail. But ultimately, you’re more than a founder or analyst or developer. You’re also a friend, son or daughter, husband, wife, or student. It’s an experience that’ll only help you grow quintessentially. Failure or success yields from your attitude and work ethic.