The truth about being an entrepreneurFeatured
It’s a hard slog as an entrepreneur. Our fetishization of the life of a founder or future CEO has made all realistic expectations vanish. You read about the “I had an idea” phase, then the “we got 1 million users and a $10 mil valuation” phase, but so rarely about the hardship and struggle in between. Remember that even YC backs companies that fail. Most companies fail. The fact that we don’t hear about those just reinforces the illusion that more persistence = success.It is very important to set realistic KPIs (key performance indicators) on a timeline, and work hard to meet them. They keep you focused, and tell you if you are on track or off the mark, or simply not progressing. Holding yourself and your business accountable is probably the most important thing beyond finding a great founder. Most people will set KPIs, then do something ridiculous like disregard them, or let them drag out, etc. This doesn’t hurt anyone but themselves.If you haven’t done it yet, set up your KPIs. Accelerators you participate in should have started this process, and you should have made at least one during the period of attending the accelerator. If this didn’t happen, it’s more a statement on the poor quality of way too many accelerators. It’s very difficult to make accelerators work as a financial model, so a bunch of people are going into it hoping to score quality deal flow and just disappointing themselves and their cohorts. When creating each KPI, break down the steps to reach it. You and your cofounder need to split up the tasks to get there. Having a cofounder with young kids is a very risky position to be in to start a company. Forcing you to take on the stress and travel your startup requires as the cofounder without children is not a fair split. Make sure your foundational documents reflect the uneven risk and work, or have a real discussion about it.Then hustle your ass off for each marker on the way to your KPI. If you miss one, you brainstorm immediately on reasons it missed, what may not be reflected, how to better account for what’s happening, and/or what shifts in approach or product you may need. The truth is that product-market fits appears pretty quickly. Either you have something people want, or you don’t. This is why intensive market research should happen before starting your company- you need to make sure you’re addressing something that is actually a problem that people want resolved.Finding your markers and KPIs isn’t easy- you’ll have to really map out your plan to attack the market, your targets, and what reflects success. You accelerators should be able to help with this - contact the best one you worked with and ask for help. If you do this well, you should have solid feedback about your company within 3 months of starting to work on your markers.Remember, though, that none of that information will tell you how long it will take to be self-sustaining, or even give any certainty re: fundraising and breakeven. Think very realistically about how much risk you personally are comfortable taking on, and how long you can sustain yourself on even a ramen budget. Do this alone, then have a serious talk with your cofounder to discuss it. If your cofounder is more willing to take the risk after your cut off date, then arrange a buyout at that point. Don’t let your cofounder push you into taking on more risk than you’re comfortable with. Despite the abundance of adages that say 'I wanted to quit and 30 days later won a major customer and took over the market', this rarely happens (which is why it’s such a great story). It’s more often a long, slow slog to the middle. Startups tend to be the province of the privileged or the experienced in a particular industry, and the tech world is largely biased against the experienced. It’s a tough world, and most have to go through at least one major failure in their history. Doubts are common. But if you don’t have the internal fanaticism about your company and product, or you lose it along the way, it’s going to be a brutal ride.Remember that being an entrepreneur does not make you better, smarter or happier than anyone else. It’s just a career choice, and works with people who are obsessed with something particular, have a very high tolerance for risk and chaos, and have a lifestyle that can tolerate financial risk, emotional roller coasters, and massive unpredictability. Most people are not designed to be entrepreneurs, just like most are not designed to be engineers, or ballet dancers, or authors. Go with what works for you, not with what other people think is a good idea.Don’t let any of this discourage you from following your passion in this company or any other, or in pursuing full time employment somewhere else. None of these choices is better or worse endemically - only better or worse for you at this given point in your life right now. That’s your only real criteria in judging what is best for you.I mean this only as some version of a useful reality check you were seeking. By choosing this path you are already braver and more persistent than most just in what you’ve done. Be proud of yourself. A clear-eyed assessment (which we should all do regularly whatever our careers or age) should give you a good decision based on your current circumstances and mind set.