Of starting up blues

Though technically not a startup, we’ve been in a startup mode from quite sometime – say seven years. Oops! In seven years, history gets changed by companies younger than that. So, what does it take to build a startup and be successful while at it ?

Marc Andreessen has addressed some points in his blog, in which he points out the reasons not to build startups!! He hits the nail right on the head with each and every letter in that post. Ouch! That hurts!! Let me try to correlate.

Why do we start up in the first place ?

  • the opportunity to be in control of your own destiny
  • The opportunity to create something new
  • The opportunity to have an impact on the world
  • create your ideal culture and work with a dream team of people
  • money

The Opportunity to do. The Freedom to explore the Opportunities. The Opportunity to be Free. When compared to an engineering or an executive job, where you are one of the minions working to realise somebody else’s ideas and opportunities, working for your own place under the sun is a very delicious idea. The freedom this portends, counters all the comforts that a cushy job can provide.

We’ve had numerous opportunities to explore over the years. Several ecsastic moments, several downfalls. The one big difference is that we didn’t build to scale. We worked on the by now classical form of outsourced services. Having a replicable or assembly line model of products or services is going to make a big difference to the growth potential. We didn’t do that!

Where can it go wrong ?

First, and most importantly, realize that a startup puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced.

And what a rollercoaster!!! It ain’t like nothing that can be experienced elsewhere. Further

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.

Know what??!! It need not be a day, even hours! minutes!! seconds!!! A positive side effect is going to be that you’ll become a lot wiser, philosophical and equanimous. Of course, you need to have solid backing from your near and dear ones. And you need to have an outlet for your emotions without which you might end up in extremities. Like my friend, who killed himself a couple of weeks back :-(

In an established company — no matter how poorly run or demoralized — things happen. They just happen. People come in to work. Code gets written. User interfaces get designed. Servers get provisioned. Markets get analyzed. Pricing gets studied and determined. Sales calls get made. The wastebaskets get emptied. And so on.

Sigh! Those aren’t something one person can do – day in and day out. Why didn’t somebody tell me before ?

In a startup it is very easy for the code to not get written, for the user interfaces to not get designed… for people to not come into work… and for the wastebaskets to not get emptied.

You as the founder have to put all of these systems and routines and habits in place and get everyone actually rowing — forget even about rowing in the right direction: just rowing at all is hard enough at the start.

And until you do, absolutely nothing happens.

Unless, of course, you do it yourself.

Have fun emptying those wastebaskets.

Thanks! Why am I pasting entire paragraphs here ? Because these are the exact thoughts I’ve been trying to put into words. Marc has articulated them so well. About the wastebaskets, “been there, done that!“.

By that I mean that half or more of the people you hire aren’t going to work out. They’re going to be too lazy, too slow, easily rattled, political, bipolar, or psychotic.

Here, I’ve had quite a pleasant experience so far. Unless they are influenced by various factors, they do try hard, very hard to contribute. But, the issue remains that with all the paucity of resources, how is a startup going to manage it’s people ? This according to me is the most complex challenge in the mix.

Fifth, God help you, at some point you’re going to have to hire executives.

At what point do you hire executives ? And how do you compensate them ? Executives aren’t cheap! They need to have a sense of belonging, if they’re going to put in the effort. How do you address their hierarchy or position in the management ? What are the established roles in startups ? How do you shed your ego in order to work with someone with a more or less equal ego ?

Tough questions. If you’ve the answers, half the battle is won. The other half starts now.

Sixth, the hours

And even if you can help your employees have proper work/life balance, as a founder you certainly won’t.

Stress. Strain. Pressure. And to think of it, I didn’t think much of them even in my Engineering Mechanics classes. Maybe I’d flunked. Oh! wait :-p

It takes time for the culture of any company to become “set” — for the team of people who have come together for the first time to decide collectively what they’re all about, what they value — and how they look at challenge and adversity.

In the best case, you get an amazing dynamic of people really pulling together, supporting one another, and working their collective tails off in pursuit of a dream.

In the worst case, you end up with widespread, self-reinforcing bitterness, disillusionment, cynicism, bad morale, contempt for management, and depression.

And you as the founder have much less influence over this than you’ll think you do.

And by the time, a team settles. It’s time for a new team to move in. Due to unlimited opportunities and these pressures, people move on. The camaraderie breaks. The work suffers. Customers get impatient :-)

Eighth, there are lots of X factors that can come along and whup you right upside the head, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about them.

Like our scheduled and unscheduled power cuts, lack of internet access, etc.

But, at the end of the day the thrill of coordinating all the activities, putting on various thinking hats, talking to people and getting things done is the bottom line for us – the founders/managers.

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