Tagged: Startup

Why are startups hard?

David Goehring

Is it because we’re trained and educated in to a different way of thinking or are they inherently hard?

This post from Derek Sivers C Dixon got me thinking. From the first day of school we are trained to think in a certain way. Essentially, we’re all managers or at least that’s what we’re expected to become.

Be a part of the machinery. Optimise it, tweak it, but don’t disrupt it! That’s what school teaches you.

But we know that entrepreneurship is different. Steve Blank, Eric Ries and the rest of the lean startup movement have taught us that a startup is a completely different beast than a company with an established business model and product.

Instead of optimising you should be experimenting.

Instead of tweaking you should be pivoting when the experiments fail.

And disruption is on top of the agenda.

With the lean startup process we now have the manual (sort of) for doing it. But it’s still so darn hard. The manager within us keeps holding us back.

So, I wonder: are startups hard because we have to fight the instinctive urges that one and a half decade of management thinking training (aka “school”) has programmed us with or are they hard because, well, it’s simply hard? What do you think?

Passive founder deadlock

Startup Founders are like toes
Startup Founders are connected like toes on a foot. Photo by me.

A “deadlock” is a state in a computer program where parts of the program is waiting for other parts to finish who in turn are waiting for the other parts. The result is a freeze where nothing happens. This has probably happened to your computer some time.

A similar situation can occur in early stage startups. Before a startup gets funding or revenue the only thing that drives it is the passion of the founders. But, the passion in every individual founder is deeply connected to the passion of the other founders. You need to have a passion balance equilibrium otherwise the startup will freeze just like the computer program!

As an example, you’re three founders, you get started, energy is high and you’re all excited to do this thing. Then after a while one of the founders starts drifting. Maybe her daytime job takes too much time. Maybe her spouse doesn’t like that she spends all her free time working on your startup. Maybe she just lost interest, the reason doesn’t matter but the fact is that you are now extremely close to a passive founder deadlock situation.

Her drain in energy will drain the other two founders as well. It’s Sunday evening and you have the choice between playing with your kids or working on your startup. Why should you sacrifice your spare time when the other founder don’t? You go play with your kids (a wise choice anyway). The startup dies.

The same situation can occur in later stages, when funds are limited. As long as your startup doesn’t have its wings in the air passive founder deadlock is probably your number one risk.

So, how do you prevent it? At the end of the day, you can’t. This is simply one of the facts of life for a startup. But you can limit the risk somewhat.

  • Of course you should make sure you have written agreements between the founders. This sets the baseline of what you expect from each other. It should also describe how a breakup should be done.
  • Too much administration can kill the passion too but some simple way of tracking who does what will help you see early on if someone is dragging behind. A Kanban board is an excellent tool.
  • One rather extreme way is to define an equity value for each task that needs to be performed and then split the equity after the task has been done based on who contributed the most to finishing the task. With this approach all the founders together make a list of what needs to be done and decide on an equity value for each task. When the task has been done the founders meet to “split the boot” with the founder who contributed the most getting the most equity. The downside with this approach is that you will spend a lot of time arguing over who did what and how much they contributed but if it works out it’s probably the fairest way to do it.
  • Do the startup alone is one way but the chance of success is even smaller with this option so this is not recommended.
  • If you’re OK with not an equal split of equity you can appoint one of the founders as “CEO”, give her more equity and the authority to be the driver of the startup. It’s then her task to “hire” co-founders and pay them with equity for the work they do. This approach also has downsides.
  • Of course the best way to solve this is to just simply get your wings in the air as soon as possible. You really should hate being in the startup phase.

What do you think is the best approach to prevent passive founder deadlock?

Hacker News discussion.

It’s going to take five years

People Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10’000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. That’s roughly ten years.

Knowing that it takes ten years to reach the expert level can be liberating. It makes the size of the effort crystal clear. For example:

  • There can be no doubt that you have to love doing the thing you want to become an expert in. 10 years of forcing yourself to do something just won’t happen. You won’t make it.
  • There can be no doubt that it will require hard work. Ten years of it.
  • There can be no doubt that you will make mistakes. Over a period of ten years, of course there will be many moments when you will fail.

Launching a startup doesn’t have to take that long. Still, many entrepreneurs are too focused on the next milestone. They don’t see the full distance.

“If we can only get this release out the door, we’re safe.”

“If we can only close this round of funding, we’re home.”

“If we can only add this missing feature, we’re OK.”

This makes failures much harder to cope with. “We missed the deadline – we’re DOOMED!” No, you’re not – or, you don’t have to be. Because just like the path to expert-hood is long and filled with obstacles, the road to startup success is paved with failures and misfortunes – and that’s how it’s supposed to be because that is how you learn.

It also makes it much more likely that you burn up all your energy, money, stamina, mojo, whatever it is that you run on, before reaching take-off speed.

Don’t believe me? Ask the experts! Read the interviews in Founders at Work. What are they all saying? The key ingredient in a successful startup is persistence!

So, before you start or whenever you’re in doubt, just take a deep breath and repeat these six words:

It’s going to take five years.

Ah. Feel better already, doesn’t it?

(Thanks for reading. Now follow me on Twitter.)

Fem frågor från StartupAgents

Web Worker Daily skriver om rekryteringsföretaget StartupAgents som inriktar sig på att förmedla jobb åt “startup junkies”.

De avgör om man passar genom att ställa fem frågor:

1) Do you feel comfortable in a fast-paced, always-on, highly ambiguous environment?
2) Does the idea of working tirelessly to help accomplish a mission you are passionate about excite you?
3) Are you willing to take on responsibilities that does not match your job description?
4) Are you willing to accept compensation in the form of equity?
5) Do you adapt well to change?

Om du svarar ja på de här frågorna bör du för övrigt ta en titt på
det här [pdf]. GlocalReach söker nämligen folk!