amrita The Emotional Aspects of ‘Life in a Startup’

Sure, there’s all the obvious stuff about how you won’t get any sleep when you are working on a startup, how you might end up neglecting your family, friends, girlfriend or boyfriend, how you will need to develop an unimaginable tolerance for risk, how you will have to learn to live in a shoebox or worse – with your co-founder, only to work through nights while eating left over pizza slices… and many more along the same lines.

Even though we know all this; it is always the emotional aspect of startup entrepreneurship that always gets us.

Learning to deal with this early on and being prepared for some low-blows while you build, iterate and make connections, will help you get there faster while saving you some stressful moments. Hopefully.

The first thing to know is:

1. You will lose friends – especially if you are working on your startup with a friend. That friend could soon become a former friend. You will butt heads, try to make joint decisions that don’t go anywhere and often the person that has invested money (or the most money) may feel like it is their right to make certain decisions even though it might not be the best decision and if and when you call them out on it, it will become hostile territory. You might end up leaving the startup, upon which you may not remain friends anymore. Or you might continue to have stake in the company although with no active involvement. Either way, the friendship will never remain the same.

It doesn’t matter how much you respected each other in the past, how long you have known each other or how well you think you work together – you will butt heads. That’s just the nature of startup. You have to make multiple decisions in a short amount of time and hope for the best outcomes. That can’t be easy for anyone.

The only solution is to be absolutely, 100%, your life-depends-on-it sure, that you can work with this person 24/7; because that is essentially what you will be doing. It’s not without reason that people say working with your co-founder is like marriage.

In fact, before you begin your journeys together, make sure you have a full disclosure type heart-to-heart and make them aware of some of the ups and downs you anticipate in your relationship. Talk about it, question it, and make sure you are both/ all prepared to handle that.

Another scenario to consider is losing friends by virtue of being part of a successful startup. As the Greek saying goes only a few men have the natural strength to honor a friend’s success without envy. This is true more often than not and what it means is that there will always be a few people that you considered ‘friends’ that might not be able to coexist with your success.

I wish I had anticipated this. If I could turn back time, I would have sat my friends down, told them about my ideas, dreams and aspirations; asked for their support, guidance and advice (even if I didn’t think I needed it) and ask for forgiveness in advance, for being abnormally busy.

Moral of the story: be prepared to lose a few friends. Or at least try to preempt it by having a heart-to-heart with your friends. Inform them of your startup intentions, aspirations and get their support and understanding up-front.

2. Both you and your idea/product will be considered stupid at some point by someone – this always tends to happen at one time or another; more often when you are still not fully ready with your value proposition or messaging.  You know you have a good idea and you know how to execute and build market share. Why the hell can’t these people see it! Right? I know the feeling.

Well, don’t fret. It’s normal for people to be critical of stuff they don’t fully understand. I do it to other people all the time! But remember, it is good to have critics out there. It keeps things real.

Just because you might have a good idea or product doesn’t mean people will jump at it automatically. You need to figure out its applications, you need to work on its packaging, how you position it and in what market. You need to develop some solid messaging that will resonate with your target market.

So next time someone tells you they don’t think your idea will work… just remain calm and instead of panicking, stressing out and feeling demotivated; carry on as planned. Remember, don’t ever stop asking people for their opinion, it is always good to have a sense of the percentage of people that instantly get it and those you don’t like your idea right off the bat. It shows you how much further you still have to go. And best of all, it helps you further develop your elevator pitch.

Moral of the story: prepare yourself for some tongue bashing and potentially disappointing pre-launch reviews. Instead – embrace it, learn from it and take the hits with some humor.

 

3. Don’t expect your investors to help you – whether you are dealing with a VC, angel or family or friends; they will likely not help you in the way you expect. Key phrase being “ the way you expect”. I think as new entrepreneurs, we expect everybody to be as gung-ho as we are. We have expect people to answer our phonecalls, emails and text messages instantly. We expect that investors will go above and beyond their duties of investing to help us succeed. The most logical explanation being – well if they have invested in me, they want to help me do well so they can get a good return, right? Right?

Wrong! Investors are there to invest. That’s it. Zilch. That is all they do. You have to go do the actual work.

Investors are not your partners, they are not your employees and they are certainly not you. They are investing in you, because they believe you can do the work. Asking them for help is a sign that you are not up to the challenge. In their heads, they have already done you a favour by giving you money. The rest if up to you to deliver. They are counting on you.

Moral of the story: the next time you think of asking your investors for help outside of more funds – think again. If you do get anything but funds out of them, that’s just bonus. Also, perhaps what you really need is an incubator not a traditional investor. Someone that will be give you money, advice, resources, office space as well as a sense of community. If you are looking for one or all of the above, you need more than just traditional investment.

Hope I haven’t scared you much! It isn’t all gloom and doom out there. In fact these days there is so much support for new entrepreneurs and startups. As well several products, services and forums are available today that you can make use of in your journey. 

All I am asking is that my fellow entrepreneurs see where I am coming from and take the steps to prevent some predictable emotional mishaps to happen. For more about what startups are really like, read this post by Paul Graham.

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6 Responses to The Emotional Aspects of ‘Life in a Startup’

  1. Hillary D Farmer says:

    Good one Amrita! I am not from Toronto or any of the other big tech hubs but the problems here in Ohio are the exact same. I have been through the same issues and you are absolutely right to point out how importantn it is to find somebody that you respect and trust, but also handle being around all the time. day or night.
    I also think that one must depend on themselves fully and not have any expectations from anyone else to be successful. I learned the hard way and hope your post will help new gen y entreprenuers to learn from our mistakes.

  2. Vikram says:

    Hey Amrita,

    Good One!! But few things i was not able to digest like the one with friends ,i guess it depends from person to person and not all theh cases are like that if you separate the business work from personal friendship!!

    Second point regd users/friends/anyone considering stupid abt product is spot on!!

    Third point absolutely rt with investors and its always beneficial to go with incubators but there might be some angel investors in the domain who completely understand and have back ground in web startup’s …May be they are difficult to spot :-)

    Good one amrita for some really good insights !!

    Keep Innovating!!

    • amrita says:

      Hey thanks Vikram. I agree, friendships differ person to person. Unfortunately for me, many close friends work in the same sector as I do and so there tends to be much overlap. People have been offended in the past for “not being kept in the loop” etc. That’s where I was coming from. Perhaps it is just a symptom of being in Toronto. I think if I were in the Valley, it would be almost assumed that people would be working on something of their own, and no one would be offended.

      Glad you agreed with the other points I make though!

  3. amrita says:

    Here is an HBR article about how to pick a co-founder: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/02/post_1.html

    As well a BNET article on how not to get screwed by a co-founder: http://www.bnet.com/blog/smb/how-not-to-get-screwed-by-a-co-founder/3664

  4. Rich says:

    I do not agree with your comment about investors not helping. I have had a few angels fund my startup and they are an immense resource when it comes to sharing contacts and putting me in touch with people that might be able to help our business. Sure, some VCs stay very hands off but that is not the norm and nor should it be. though i would share…

  5. prokenyan says:

    Starting up a business seems far far far more complicated than I ever thought!! I particularly agree with the first point, time just seems to disappear and the hours of the day are just not enough anymore

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