The Startup
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The Startup

How Ego Almost Killed My Company

The surprising dangers of growth.

Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

“The ego of a man is the source of all his problems, all wars, all conflicts, all jealousy, fear, and depression. Feeling like a failure, comparing himself continually with others, makes everyone hurt, and hurt themselves a lot, because no one can have it all.” — Osho

Many people start companies pursuing the dream of being a millionaire or even a billionaire. I’m not saying that being rich is wrong. What I’m saying is that most of the time, people want to be rich just to feed their ego. Building a company is very hard, and having the wrong motivation for that can be very dangerous for your physical and mental health.

One thing that motivated me to start a company was watching The Social Network movie that tells how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook and became a billionaire. I wanted the same thing for me. I wanted to have a startup and be a billionaire.

My goal was to be a millionaire by 30 and a billionaire by 40. Influenced by that, I started a gaming startup.

I founded Cupcake Entertainment in 2012. My company became profitable in the middle of 2015, and in 2017 we raised US$1 million. We raised money because we wanted to increase the speed of our growth. We’ve been breaking revenue records for ten weeks in a row, and we wanted to keep doing that. At that time, we were five people.

Does a company really need to grow?

There this thinking that a company should always be growing. You have to make more money. You have to hire more people. You have to have a bigger office.

Paul Jarvis, the author of the book Company of One, says that there’s a core assumption that growth is always good and is required for success. Culturally, growth feeds our ego and social standing. The bigger the company you own, with more profits and more employees than the next person, the better you might feel.

I’m a very competitive person. I always thought about being the best. I read all of Jim Collins’ books, and the Big Hairy Audacious Goal idea inspired me. BHAG is a powerful and bold long-term goal that you set as the mission for your company.

Influenced by that, I defined ours as Be the #1 word games company in the world. That is bold! We had much work to do to make that happen.

I also always thought about selling my company one day. A business exit strategy is a plan that a founder or owner of a business makes to sell their company, or share in a company, to other investors or other firms. Initial public offerings (IPOs), strategic acquisitions, and management buyouts are among the more common exit strategies an owner might pursue. As founder and CEO, I let it clear to my partners since the beginning about my intentions.

Selling my company would help me achieve my goal of being a millionaire and eventually a billionaire. To make that happened, my company had to make much more money. To accomplish that, we needed to improve our current games and make new ones.

We needed more people to help us, and I build a strategy for all that, considering that we were a company 100% remote. Having the US$1 million investment also helped.

We ended breaking revenue records again in 2017. We went from five to twelve people, and we build two more new games. We had a lot going on, and I had a lot of pressure to keep growing in 2018.

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Happiness is the precursor to success

People usually think that they will be happy when they achieve a specific goal. They will be happy when they finish college. They will be happy when they get a job. They will be happy when they get married. And so on. It’s always something in the future.

True happiness is in the journey. As Shawn Achor wrote in his book, “The Happiness Advantage,” happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result.

In 2018, I was facing burnout, and I also wasn’t enjoying my entrepreneurial journey anymore. I wasn’t happy in my own company, and because of that, my performance decreased drastically.

Instead of setting new goals or taking a vacation to recover my energies, I choose to keep working on the current things I had in front of me. That didn’t work. The pursue of growth to feed my ego blinded me. My company lost performance and almost died. I had to fire 60% of it to keep surviving and fighting.

I remember this time where I talked to the founder of another gaming company. At that time, both our companies have around five people on the team and were making good money.

I asked about his growth plans, and he told me he was happy with how things were. He just wanted to keep things the way they were. I went bananas! How the hell are you not thinking about growth? I wanted to grow my company much more. At that time, I couldn’t understand him. Now I do.

For a while, I had this picture with the logo of gaming companies from Brazil that were making more money than my company. I wanted to beat them. I was stressed by the fact that I was making less money than them. But this was pure ego. Do I really need that for a happier life?

What type of life do you want for yourself?

You need to know what kind of company you want to have for yourself. If you prefer to work in a small one, maybe you don’t need to worry so much about growth as I did. People think that a company should always be growing, but that is not necessary. You have to understand what is best for you. Growth isn’t always beneficial. The only thing that keeps growing without stoping is cancer, and cancer isn't something good. Cancer keeps growing until it kills its body.

Some say “If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” but I believed that people misunderstood its meaning. I prefer to use the quote, “If you’re not evolving, you’re dying”. There is a difference between being better and bigger. What can you do to be better? Growing a company will make you happier or just feed your ego?

Instead of thinking about what product to create or what service to offer, I started thinking about what type of life I wanted for myself and how I want to spend my days. That helped me make better professional decisions as I could work backward from my personal goals.

I’m 32 now, and I’m not a millionaire. I’m doing very well, though. I ended up leaving the company that I founded to pursue different challenges that could bring me more joy in my life. Besides money, I’m much better physically and mentally now.




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João V Souza

João V Souza

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