Being part of a startup includes a mandatory ride on an emotional rollercoaster that will find ways to break your nerves and patience, straining every relationship you have at various times throughout the ride.
Startups are powered with emotional rocket fuel, but never seem to lift off in a vertical fashion. Your emotional rocket fuel is actually powering a crazy up and down rollercoaster ride that can make lesser people pass out.
Recently I’ve been caught underwater with three large transactions occurring at the same time, two of which were unplanned resulting from some events outside of my control but need to be tended too regardless of what I had on my schedule.
Each are complicated and carrying lots of small moving parts, differing personalities, large expectations, opportunities for profit & loss with the corresponding communication problems that tend to arise and need to be worked out.
In each case my relationships with my partners, and the outside parties we are doing business with have been tested in positive (in the case of my partners) and some negative ways.
I like what Marc Andreessen recently wrote in his post on Why Not To Do Startups
First, and most importantly, realize that a startup puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced.
You will flip rapidly from a day in which you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again.
Over and over and over.
And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs.
There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. Will the product ship on time? Will it be fast enough? Will it have too many bugs? Will it be easy to use? Will anyone use it? Will your competitor beat you to market? Will you get any press coverage? Will anyone invest in the company? Will that key new engineer join? Will your key user interface designer quit and go to Google? And on and on and on…
Some days things will go really well and some things will go really poorly. And the level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify those transient data points into incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude.
Sound like fun?
Marc’s a smart guy who gave me some great advice the couple times I met with him when I was building Zero-Knowledge Systems. He’s been doing some great blogging sharing his considerable experience on startup life which is worth checking out.
The fuel that drives startups and any growing company is passion and intensity. The day to day decisions may affect the navigation, but you need this startup fuel to create the momentum to face the daily challenges of startups and to achieve escape velocity.
This startup fuel (Mix equal parts passion, intensity, and relentless need for getting things done) is volatile and needs to be mixed and handled with extreme care. In my experience it takes at least 2 co-founding partners to both create and safely handle this startup fuel.
I advise lone entrepreneurs I work with to get some sort of co-founding partner before they go any further for two simple reasons.
#1 Reason you need co-founder
- If you can’t convince someone else to jump into the startup void and join you on your adventure then odds are you aren’t a good enough personal sales person to do what it will take to build a company without a co-founder creating a no-win situation. Creating companies takes team building and millions of moments of convincing (sales, financing, hiring) and if you can’t find a co-founder who is better than you at something and convince them to join you in your adventures then it doesn’t bode well for your abilities to build a company.
In the Valley it’s easy to find a co-founder and the environment is incredibly supportive in teaching smart people how to operate startups and navigate the industry.
Finding startup minded people in Canada is more challenging, since we don’t teach or promote risk taking and entrepreneurship as a career option. Culturally we have many smart and successful people, but we don’t have an abundance of risk orientated startup minded people compared to other countries.
It can be done if you work at it. My partner, Fred Ngo started to organize Barcamp in Montreal specifically to help meet other people interested in startups. That’s where we met alongside with Ben and started the discussion that led to the creation of Standout Jobs.
#2 Reason you need co-founders
- More importantly, startups are emotional rollercoasters and they are only fun when you have trusted co-founders and partners to ride the ups and downs with you. Your partners and co-founders talk you down when you are angry, and up when you are down. Then you swap sides as you take the lead in talking them up when they are down and you are riding high. Many times you are both looking at a shitty situation, sigh together, suck it up and know that you both will fix whatever problem has occurred. This becomes easier because you know you’ll be in it together. Would you try to lift an 800lb. weight without a spotter?
The ability to bounce ideas off each other and act as emotional cushions while riding the startup rollercoaster is essential to the success of the company. Teams that bleed together, succeed together. Because at the end of the of day, it’s the tough times when peoples real characters are tested. You will always be learning about the characters of your partners at the same time you are judging the characters of all the people you will be dealing with in your daily startup adventures (financing, sales, hiring). Many of the characters you will meet aren’t worth your time and will suck the energy out of you and you need your partners to help you ride that out and help you both learn from the experiences.
The most important thing your partners help you realize together is at the end of the day it is just a ride. Although it may not feel like it, the situations are never as bad as they seem and the intense twists and turns are just normal by-products that come from mixing any intense activity with a highly volatile amount of passion, piss, and guts poured on for fuel.
I am very lucky to have some great partnerships with my various co-founders that have all come in handy this last couple of weeks.
Despite weeks like I just had, I love what I do including all the ups and downs - and that is only because of the partners I have.
Startups are adventures made fun and enjoyable because you share the experience with people you enjoy riding rollercoasters with. Not because you have any real control of which twists and turns you will be riding on any given day.
Thanks to my co-founders who help me keep my perspective and my activities intense, rewarding and always full of adventure.
- Alex and my team at Akoha have been pulling together some great stuff for an upcoming team offsite. Alex works with me on all aspects of my business affairs and he and I talk throughout the day about all our decisions to help each other balance our ideas and activities. We have been friends for more then a decade and can talk each other up and down any situation. We keep each other in check. (I’m looking forward to introducing the whole Akoha team once we come out from behind our curtain for our premiere. They are all co-founders in our project.).
- Ben and Fred my partners at Standout Jobs are incredible in their level headed and practical way of tackling day to day startup adventures. We each have had the fun and nerve racking moments tackling some curveballs in the last month. As these curveballs come faster and more erratic Ben and Fred have been incredible to work with. We discuss how we tackle the issues of the day and move on to the next thing.
- My father and brother, who I have been working on some exciting Radialpoint business with. This required us to work through some complicated financial and business decisions. Working with family comes with a unique set of advantages and challenges. One of the benefits is that you can pretty much always trust that family will figure out ways to make things work, which is what took a lot of time to work out this week but we sorted it out in time for some tough deadlines since the transaction needed to close quickly.
- Todd (our financial Analyst & Spreadsheet jockey), Katherine (my executive assistant) and Rosalie (our bookkeeper & admin assistant) at Brudder Ventures who have been helping me deal with juggling all the various meetings and financial aspects related to each of these transactions. Knowing that I have a strong financial and administrative teams to compliment my skills on creating companies is a great piece of mind.
- My greatest co-founder in my projects is my partner at home, Kelly. She has been incredibly supportive by taking care of so many life details allowing me to focus my time effectively on the projects on my plate. Many of my early startups were done without a relationship in my life. I would always date after the startups were in revenue generating mode because I couldn’t handle the distraction from work. At this point in my life, I appreciate having a loving partner at home who reminds me to take breaks and is the ultimate anchor of what is important. Thanks babe for all your help & support.
If you have the right friends along for the ride, I still can’t recommend a more satisfying experience then working for a startup. Whether you are part of the founding team or an early employee there is an incredible amount of pride that comes from contributing to the fuel that creates something new and of value.