I am writing this as a reminder for myself, but also to the millions of people, in 2017, who think that "it would be cool to start a company one day." I think it is a fad to start a company and become an "entrepreneur," whatever that means.
Buzzwords aside, here is the truth - starting anything is really hard. It won't be cool for a very long time. Assume there are no overnight success stories.
Assume it's really hard.
Now I am no expert - clearly, I have never started a billion dollar whatever company. But I do have some insights. Being in VC, I have seen a number of people fail. I have failed. Even worse, to me, I have seen a number of companies sit in mediocrity.
I think the first reason that companies fail which is something you can completely avoid is expectation management. I say completely avoid so casually - but it is really hard to do. I think as humans we are just generally not very good at managing our expectations. We have no idea how much work / how long / how much validation we need. And this leads, quickly, to founder depression, giving up, and a variety of other reasons for your company to fail.
Now I think expectation management is only worsened when you start a company for one of the following reasons...
Here is the biggest reason NOT to start a company:
- Ego/Money/Fame: I actually would say that lots of founders start companies for these reasons. They are looked at as vices in society, but they are not the worst reasons you could have. What they are, however, and what you must recognize, is that these are not sustainable reasons. Meaning, you will eventually have to find a deeper reason for starting your company.
When the going gets tough - when the shit hits the fucking fan - what are you going to do? How bad do you want to really be successful? If there is no deeper pursuit, then, one of those bad days, you'll likely give up.
And I am not saying you will not be successful, but I am saying that the best founders, well really any successful founder, has gone through the shitty days. Probably years. To get to whatever they determine to be success.
The other hard thing about this is that if you base your happiness/success off of an external metric, like fame, then it is hard to be happy long term. It is hard to stay motivated when the principle of your investment is based off of how other people like you and your product.
As a founder, you need optimism. The purpose of this essay is not to tell you that you will not be successful. But rather, to make you think about why you are doing what you are doing, earlier rather than later.
Optimism may be the key to your success. In fact, I think you need a great deal of optimism more than the average. Most people may look at your idea and be like that will never work. If that's the case - what are you going to do? Do you bounce back?
Someone sent me this quote the other day, I think you'll like it (sorry about the profanity):
Are you going to be able to stand up?
“I always wanted to give a lecture at film schools. You go in and you see all these fresh faces, and you say: “You! Stand up, tell me your story. Tell me what your film is going to be about.’ And they start, and you go: ‘Shut up and sit the f-down!’ And if they do, you go: ‘You’re not ready.’ Because the film business is filled with Shut-up and sit-the-fuck-down. You got to be able to tell your story in spite of sit-down and shut-the-fuck-up. If you are going to let something like that derail you, what hope do you have against transportation department? What hope do you have against f-ing development executives?” - David Fincher