We Lied to You, This Sucks
5 Insights on Surviving Startup life through the lens of a venture designer and entrepreneur.
Let’s start with a bit of honesty. Most people romanticize the idea of entrepreneurship, but the startup life can be a real downer sometimes.
Now, that’s not to say that it doesn’t come with great rewards, nor does it say there aren’t ups to go with all the downs along the way. It’s just important to realize that the sacrifices you must make aren’t always as glamorous as those hotsy-totsy entrepreneur gatherings you keep registering for.
I see too many people expecting to quit their day job and become the next Mark Cuban within a year. Deciding to take the plunge and focus on building not just your product, but a full-blown company isn’t something to take lightly. In the same grain of honesty, I may have taken it too lightly in the past as a founder myself. Because of this, I’ve put together some tips and thoughts for those of you that are toying with the idea of starting a business.
The early grinding work required to get a company off the ground isn’t sexy.
I want you to imagine something for me. Picture yourself in a rusty Geo Metro, packed in with 4 other guys, $7,000 in your pocket, and you need to drive from Los Angeles to Gothenburg, Sweden. Now, some of you unfamiliar with geography may not understand the futility of this scenario — the rest of you want an explanation as to why I chose a Geo Metro. In short, it’s because the early grinding work required to get a company off the ground isn’t sexy; stay with me Geo Metro owners. I don’t care how many entrepreneurial success books you read, or how many stories you see in the news about another under 25 entrepreneurial sensation. The simple fact is, most of us are going to fail, and if we don’t fail — we’re going to pivot. A lot. Which, in my opinion, is kind of akin to waiting for the Bering Strait to freeze over… And until that happens, you’re stuck in Alaska. Oh, and not everyone is going to make it across the ice.
So why am I writing this? In some ways, I wanted to vent, but I also wanted to let the world know that what we do in the startup world isn’t always glamorous. It’s a lot of mostly normal people chasing down a dream with a lot of hope and prayer. It’s not all big and cool warehouse spaces, it’s not all casual shirts and Birkenstocks with shorts, and most of all — it’s not all sexy. I mean, there’s nothing sexy about a grown man destroying tacos at 3 AM while fiercely programming with his fatigue-glazed eyes and Tapatio coating his beard. Okay, maybe there’s something there, but I digress.
With all that said… If you, like many founders, myself included, can still see the sexy, you just may have what it takes to be a founder and lead your startup. Wait! Before you begin registering that “.io” domain name and apply for your local accelerator — I’d like to share some brief thoughts.
1. Your First Idea Probably Isn’t “The One”
No one likes this one, and I understand why. As a founder, you have an idea, and it’s your baby. So, what do I mean when I say this? You’re going to learn very quickly after getting your product in front of users (sometimes even before then) that you are solving the wrong problem — or worse, you’ve created a solution to a non-existent problem. This is when we do what is commonly referred to as pivot. When you pivot, it’s not about abandoning your idea or giving up on your vision. It means you need to take a look at your business model and product and work on Product/Market-Fit. Until you find your fit, you will make many adjustments, but once you’ve found the market, it makes it easier to get funding. This is primarily due to the fact you don’t need to convince investors that your product has a market and that they are funding you to scale rather than experiment. That typically means less risk for the investor.
2. You’re Going to Lose Faith
This may or may not be true for everyone — but for many of us, it’s almost too true… There is a lot that goes into building a product, a company, a team, business relationships, etc. It can be draining. When it happened to me — it hit me hard. I had to center myself again. It took going to a major show and hearing people complain about the problem our product solved for me to come around. Had I not heard those conversations, spoken with our customers and potential users, I probably wouldn’t be here telling you this most important bit of advice I could give you. If you are building something you are passionate about, whether it’s software or hardware, whether it can fly or float, whatever — never give up. Life is too short to be doing things you don’t love every day.
3. People Won’t Understand
Some people will never understand why you chose to give up the security of a solid job in the pursuit of your dreams. Parents, friends, significant others, that dude at the bar you’re going to try pitching. Don’t worry about explaining yourself to anyone. Instead, focus on the relationships with people that will push you forward. Now, I’m not saying cut ties with the folks who don’t get it, I’m just warning you that these are the kind of people who will bring about tip #2.
4. Don’t Bury Yourself
Getting a company off the ground can take a decent amount of money, but it’s important to know what you can afford from the very beginning. Set goals when it comes to spending money. I recommend a cushion of at least 6 months, some people say 3, some people say more… It’s just important to understand that if you aren’t generating revenue or getting contracts signed for pre-orders, you need to be paying attention to what’s left in the piggy bank. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re desperate for funding and begin to fall behind on bills. Money management is the top priority for you as a founder. Saving money, raising money, and generating money is going to be your responsibility. Helpful hint for those of you wanting to emulate Mark Cuban — Sales cures all.
5. Reading Lists Like This Won’t Help You
Counter-intuitive, right? Not really. You see, I can tell you all day long about the lessons I’ve learned from being a startup founder, but if you don’t experience them first hand, you’ll never quite understand. So — go make your future, and be sure to share with me any lessons you learn — and then we can get a beer and some tacos and laugh away the pain.
There are probably a ton of tips I could touch on, but I have already written more here than I did for my SAT writing section. Also, I use the term founder and entrepreneur interchangeably in this article — I do not believe they describe the same type of person, but I’ll touch on that in a future article. If you’re going to comment regarding the Bering Strait, believe me when I say I’ve done my research — I understand there is a strong current, and there is usually large areas of open water… and that’s the point.
What are some tips and experiences you want to share? Comment and let me know. Do you think I’m wrong about something? Let’s talk about it.