The Start-up Apocalypse

What we learned about surviving from watching “The Walking Dead”


“We tell ourselves… that we are the walking dead”

I was reminded recently of Robert Kirkman’s comic, The Walking Dead, adapted to TV in a great series by AMC. If you haven’t started yet, give it a try. It’s not about zombies. It’s about surviving a cruel world, where the rules have been thrown out altogether.

For us it’s become a metaphor. We’ve had to adjust to a set of rules that got thrown out the window when we left our jobs as tech employees, to become start-up founders.

Startups are tough, they seem tough from the outside. But their actually even harder once you jump into the game. You find yourself having to go back to the basics, where even simple concepts such as trust and decision making are reevaluated. You can read a lot about this. It’s a struggle. I don’t have the patience to cry about it here.

So anyway…

In a recent episode (S5, Ep10), Rick, a sort of pack leader to a group of wandering apocalypse survivors, finds the words to explain the personal anguish of being in a new world order, trying to survive when it’s not even clear what or who to trust.

“When I was a kid”, he begins, “… I asked my grandpa once if he ever killed any Germans in the war. He wouldn’t answer. He said that was grown-up stuff, so… so I asked if the Germans ever tried to kill him. But he got real quiet. He said he was dead the minute he stepped into enemy territory. Every day he woke up and told himself, ‘Rest in peace. Now get up and go to war.’ And then after a few years of pretending he was dead… he made it out alive. That’s the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do and then we get to live. But no matter what we find in DC, I know we’ll be okay. Because this is how we survive. We tell ourselves… that we are the walking dead.”

We’ve been doing this for a while, developing a product to hit our market fit, striving to make it robust, scalable, platform-oriented. Constantly reaffirming our goals, targets, vision. Reshaping our core beliefs and pivoting 1–2 degrees here and there.

Going through the motions over the past months, it’s struck me that, one of the many things we doing is trying to survive.

We’re trying to survive until we’re ready to fund properly. All we do, professionally as a team, and personally as founders, is to make sure we reach our target on time, conserving our energy and controlling our burn as much as possible. All we do is prep for the day we manage to find the traction and momentum to accept the funding we need, and not the funding we desperately want. I’ll hopefully write more extensively about what this means to me some other time. But for now, I’ll simply state, funding or selling out at any cost is wrong. So in the process we’re making sure we hit the mark just right.

Hitting it right means not compromising on the obvious things like the product we want to build. But it also means not compromising on the company we want to build, the investors we want to partner with, or the customers we want to do business with. It sounds fairly straight forward, but the road is paved with compromise — from companies that end up monetizing with ugly banners to founders who dilute their share until their personal interest in their venture diminishes.

We’re doing this with limited resources. Like a bunch of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, we do this with little food, shelter or friends to good us along. We eat what we need, and take care to find the right friends along the way. As long as we know what we want to see at the end, we will keep on refining and honing our product and our message.

Along the way, getting to that illusive fundable stage, provided you don’t lose your vision, you’ll end up just asking one thing from the world: to survive long enough so you can carry out your vision (and find the fit). We’ll just ask the strength to endure what we have to until then.

if you’re looking for the speech itself…

Peace out.

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