An important distinction for aspiring startup founders to understand is that leading a successful high growth company is very different than working in a career. The former is a ruthless competition where only the best survive, whereas you only have to be just good enough as an employee. For example, if you want to be a doctor, you have to pass medical school and your boards and you can be fairly certain to find a job somewhere. In a corporate setting, if you have relevant and sufficient experience in a specialty area such as marketing, you will also eventually find a job. But being “good enough” is a death sentence in startup land.
Why is this change in mentality important? First, you have to understand that, to be successful in the long-run, you have to outcompete all the other companies that are directly or indirectly in your space. In a crowded space like marketing tech where there are thousands of competitors, you have to rise to the top among a sea of worthy opponents. That means that the product, team, and company that you build has to be world-class–not just good enough.
Second, many founders aim to make their startups “investible” during fundraising and get frustrated when they hear one “no” after another. The truth is that even among angel investors and certainly among venture capital firms, your business has to beat out a hundred or hundreds of other outstanding startups that have phenomenal teams, inspiring products, and probably impressive traction. It’s not about checking off boxes. Getting investment comes down to convincing investors that your business is most likely to generate the highest return on their investment. Changing your mindset from trying to qualify to out-competing the rest will greatly help your chances of successfully raising funds for your business.
It might be uncomfortable to think of startup entrepreneurship as a competition to the top, but I think it’s dangerous to lack a realistic expectation of your journey. Most people can become an Eagle Scout or a doctor if they work hard and apply themselves, but becoming an NBA player requires even greater dedication, hard work, and perseverance. So channel your inner Serena or LeBron (or your favorite star athlete) and go get ‘em!