Startups are a beast. The best you can hope for is that your hard work and smart guesses work in your favor. Keep your startup motivation high.
Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.
― Steve Jobs
Startups are a beast.
Startup founders and their team members alike never know how things will turn out. The best they can hope for is that their hard work and smart guesses to solutions work in their favor.
And that the competitor next door finds lesser smart solutions, less money and fewer paying customers to the problem you are both trying to solve.
After reading this post, you will be better able to answer the following questions about starting a startup (addressed to would-be startup founders ) or joining a startup (addressed to potential startup team members).
Startup motivation: Ask yourself and find honest answers …
@Would-be startup founders:
- What are your expectations about startup life?
- Why do you want to start a startup?
- What’s your motivation because you need tons of it to endure the workload!
- Are you willing to sacrifice your life, your relationships, and your health to make this startup work?
- How committed to success are you?
@Potential startup team members:
- What are your expectations about startup life?
- Do you prosper in a work environment that makes you feel overwhelmed?
- What are your motives for joining a startup?
- Are you willing to see MUCH less of your family and friends to make this startup work?
- Will you be cool with doing LOTS OF shitty work? Or watching how the plan you’ve just spent weeks creating becomes irrelevant as soon as it’s finished?
P.S. You are reading part two of a three-part Startup Life series from StartupGeist…
- Startup Life: The Scary Truth No One Tells you
- Startup Motivation: 5 Bad and 5 Good Motives to Start a Startup
- Startup Life: How to Prepare for the Rollercoaster
Reflect on your answers
Do you think you can handle startups? Good!
Busted again! I don’t think you can think about it. You must feel it. Go and join a startup. Feel how it is really like.
You can never really think of feelings. You must experience them.
Be clear about your actual motives for starting or joining a startup. Because, as Alex Payne —programmer, writer, and angel investor — notes, you should see startups as a means to an end in your life.
If you just want to start or join a startup because it seems like the sexiest career choice at the moment, the chances are that you might be quite disappointed and get burned out …
Five bad reasons for starting a startup (or joining one)
Remember that if successful, startups grow massively, very fast. It’s not necessarily a piece of cake being part of that inorganic, hyper-growth.
However, it seems pretty obvious what startups can offer you: being your boss, working at your own hours and a chance to make a fortune at an early age…
BUT not so fast!
Please also remember that most startups fail. It’s not that easy!
As Jason Cohen — founder of WP Engine & Smart Bear Software — notes, the most common reasons for wanting to start a business are quite misguided!
Let’s examine five bad reasons for starting a startup together.
#1: You want to be your own boss
According to Jason, you should reconsider what your own boss being means!
It’s true in a sense that you won’t have to report to someone directly. But it is not to say that you won’t report to somebody. Be aware that you will have to face quite wearing responsibilities towards your investors, cofounders, employees and customers.
Moreover, you might soon experience that making 1000’s of decisions every day can be even harder, than just executing the decisions of your last boss at the agency xo.
Oh, and don’t be mistaken that you will only do tasks that you like. Guess what happens if you don’t understand sales, marketing or finances/fundraising because you hate it?
Yes, your startup dies quicker than a nice person in ‘Game of Thrones’.
—Conclusion: Even though you are your own boss, you will need to report 24/7 to customers, co-founders, team members, or investors (potentially).
#2: You want to get rich quickly
Indeed, you do, but let’s take a look at how big your chance is.
The only startups that make their founders rich in any case are unicorns (billion dollar ventures), and these are simply exceptional cases.
The actual numbers are quite ugly. It’s revealed that most startups fail (ranging from 75 to 95%). Don’t think that the remaining few percent will all turn into billion dollar unicorns — only .14% of all venture-backed startups will do.
How many startups do get venture capital?
According to Dileep Rao, roughly 300 startups receive venture capital yearly.
As a result, 99.95% of all entrepreneurs never receive venture capital for their business. Your probability to get late-stage venture capital funding is even smaller. In fact, it is lower than 1%.
Don’t rely on your big idea.
It will disrupt everything and attract customers like flies. Let me anticipate a little and tell you that a) most ideas turn into products that no one likes and b) that a very good idea won’t make you successful if your skills as a startup founder are wanting.
It does not mean that it’s not worth starting: if you fail, learn from your mistakes and repeat this a few times. The chances that you will succeed in the end are not extremely low. But until you do, your personal budget won’t be anything great and definitely below what you could earn at any decent company.
Are you willing to go this way — all the way to the exit?
Imagine selling your startup to which you devoted your life for many years. Even if you sell your startup successfully for a few million dollars, that doesn’t mean you get rich. If you have received any investments, your investors will take their share, and your employees will take their share too (most investors force founders to create an ‘option pool’ for employees because they think that a company can’t succeed without it).
A scenario where you end up with $ 20,000 per year is not unrealistic. Check out this example from Marc Suster — VC and former serial entrepreneur.
—Conclusion: Starting a startup to become rich, is the worst possible motive.
#3: You want to control your work schedule.
If no boss is telling you what to do, there will also be no one telling you when to work, right? Well, it’s not entirely like that.
You should be aware that you a) will be working more hours than ever and b) that this is very dependent on the type of business you are starting.
If your hosted product must work in real time, you can’t just stay off if something breaks.
If you are dependent on a good relationship with one of your customers, you will also depend on fixing any problems they experience as quickly as possible.
If you set your product up personally at the office of your customer, you are a slave to their schedule…
Are you getting the point?
—Conclusion: Depending on your business model and the product or service you offer, your working schedule will be set to normal business hours (9 to 5) or even much longer — unless you create a Tim Ferriss like mindset (that he outlines in his highly recommendable book ‘4-hour work week’).
#4: You want an easy opportunity to be an executive.
You might have heard the idea that early startup team members may ‘grow with the company’ and have career paths that corporate guys can only dream of.
Well, it’s not complete bullshit. The possibilities are there. You should, however, keep two things in mind:
- Most startups fail. The chances are pretty high that you will not grow with the company because the company won’t grow itself!
- As John Rampton — entrepreneur and writer — puts it bluntly: “How many startups have high-level executives who are not the founders?” John notes that you shouldn’t be dazzled by the fancy job titles many startup guys are carrying. They are ‘bargaining chip’ that ‘compensate’ for a lack of actual salary.
—Conclusion: Do you want meaningless titles to compensate for a below market rate salary?
#5: You want to consider yourself a rebel.
You also shouldn’t think that startups are a rebellious new way of working which allows you to express whoever you are like Steve Jobs did in the 80’s at Apple.
Jason makes a strong point:
By now, the whole idea of ‘startups’ has evolved into a replicable set of actions and values which has lead most startups and ‘startup guys’ to becoming quite uniform. Despite of all the ‘punk’ and ‘rebel’ talk, you should be cool with the fact that startups are right in the middle of our system now and not opposed to it.
—Conclusion: This might be true for the United States but in most countries startups are just beginning to gain more publicity and are taken more seriously as a career option by younger folks. Eventually, startups will become mainstream in your society as well.
Five better reasons for starting a startup (or joining one)
Why should you want to be a part of if then?
Do you have to be completely crazy as some ‘startup people’ themselves love to argue?
Nope, it’s no big deal either. No more negativity (a.k.a. reality for some).
Let’s talk about motives that startups can satisfy …
#1: You want to learn a lot and carry responsibility.
You will probably hear constantly that you can learn more in a startup than in a corporation. It’s true.
In a startup, you will do lots of different tasks.
And responsibilities won’t remain with the ‘senior guys’ — either because there won’t be guys who are much more ‘senior’ than you are, or because they are too overworked to make all the responsible decisions alone.
—Conclusion: Carrying a huge load of responsibility quickly and learning is something you have to put up with, but if you like it, you will be quite happy working for a startup.
#2: You want to do work that has an impact.
You will often be told that you’ll never be the lad making the coffee. It’s true.
No startup can afford work to be done unless it is necessary for the progress and so success of the startup.
As Adam Arbolino — Co-founder of Designcrowd — notes:
Everything you do in a startup makes a difference. No longer are you surrounded by a safety blanket world where you’re a small cog in a large machine. In a startup, everything you do will contribute to the ultimate success or failure of the business.
However, be aware that there is also a downside. Startups are about fast iterations. Therefore, a lot of what you’ll do, will seemingly not count at all.
Let me give you an example of a friend who spend hours of affectionately putting together a user manual for his startup’s product. You know what? It was never sent to a single customer because the startup pivoted and created a new version of the product.
Steve Blank advises us greatly:
—Conclusion: If done well, your work results create can have a massive impact.
#3: You want to have a fun work environment
The relative uniformity of the startup culture can be seen as a strength, too. Because it is cool and will allow you to have a lot of fun at work!
Startup people in general (yes, that is a valid generalization) are always up for some shit-blabbering, messing around or having crazy team events at the local laser tag arena or even go skydiving together.
Moreover, they aim to be friends — not just colleagues. AND they are the coolest friends you could imagine (no, that isn’t a valid generalization).
I even tend to tell startup founders that they shouldn’t work together with people they don’t like! Check out my article on finding co-founders to find out why.
—Conclusion: Combining play and work can be a great motivation.
#4: You are driven to win and overcome obstacles
I have already talked about how hard startups are. That doesn’t imply, however, that somebody won’t enjoy it!
Startups can be fun in the way a survivalist training might be. That is, not at all if you’re not into this kind of thing… However, as we know there actually are people who enjoy survival camps, and there surely are people who enjoy the pressure of running a startup.
I have seen a lot of people who blossom under constant pressure and enjoy tackling the endless funnel of future problems again and again.
—Conclusion: Do you like survival bootcamps?
(5) You are passionate about some change you want to make in the world
According to David Skok — serial entrepreneur and VC — passion is what drives the best and most successful entrepreneurs.
His reasons seem convincing:
If you really care about what you are doing, you will put a lot more effort into your startup.
Furthermore, you will be able to attract other people who see their work as a personal mission, and not just another job which makes them far more valuable (as you probably can imagine).
Let’s also not forget that the solution you offer to your customers will be much better because of the passion you are immersing into their actual problems!
I don’t want to argue that this is the only way, but working on a topic you burn for, will make many things easier. Much much easier.
Most startup founders are convinced that their product changes something in our world. Even knowing that it won’t pay off financially, startup founders still do what they’re doing as someone noted:
I experienced people who did not just like, or even love, what they did for a living, they were obsessed with it. Think about that. Obsessed. Everyone in that room would do what they were doing if they didn’t get paid a dime to do it.
You are probably thinking those people were crazy, but you are wrong. They were fucking nuts. Everyone in that room believed they were working on something that had the potential to disrupt industries and change the world. And let me tell you, that mindset is contagious.”
Well, it might be exaggerated to say that they would do it for free. After all, we — entrepreneurs — are humans too, and don’t want to beg for our living or steal it. However, passionate entrepreneurs always find a way and hustle hard for some time – just think of AirBnB as an example!
—Conclusion: There is a huge gap between keeping a company running and creating something YOURSELF that touches the lives of numerous people. Creating an impact through startups feels refreshingly emotionally rewarding! In contrast, you’ll hardly ever make that experience in a large corporation.
- Steve Blank: No Business Plan Survives First Contact With Customers
- Jason Cohen: Escorts, Startups, and the questionable promise of being your own boss
- David Skok: What drives great entrepreneurs
- Paul Graham: What startups are really like
- Alex Payne: Letter To A Young Programmer Considering A Startup
- John Rampton: 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Join a Startup.
- Adam Arbolino: 5 Reasons You Should Work For A Startup At Least Once
- Startup Life: How to Prepare for the Rollercoaster
- How to Get Startup Ideas