Where Einstein Meets Edison

Startups Suck

Startups Suck

Mar 12, 2011

As one of the 3 original founders of the MIT Entrepreneurship Review, I have a unique perspective on the startup phase of the organization.  I remember the 80-hour weeks (plus a full class schedule!), sleepless nights thinking about making the organization better, and the sometimes painful consensus-driven decisions.  I recall worrying about failure regularly and assuring my family I was still alive in a 3-word email (“not dead… yet”).  Many times it seemed like we were pushing a boulder up a hill and just when we got it to the top we realized it was just a tiny landing and we had further to go.  We put in months and months of hard work and were never sure we would see success, especially after the site failed to launch 3 times…  All of this reaffirmed one key thing in my mind: Startups suck.  They eat up all your time, control all your mindshare, and dominate your life.  There is no escaping this truth; ask any entrepreneur and he or she will tell you that startups suck.

But while startups may suck, there is no other institution in the world that accelerates personal growth, delivers immense satisfaction in accomplishment, and builds strong personal relationships quite like a startup.  A startup is an adventure of the grandest kind filled with excitement, challenge, and victory.  So given that a startup will be filled with things you do not love doing, how do you enjoy it along the way?  Here are a few key insights I gained from working with my fellow founders of the MIT Entrepreneurship Review.

1.    Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster, so enjoy the ride

James Taylor said, “The secret o’ life is enjoying the passage of time.”  This is completely true of entrepreneurship.  The highs will be high and the lows will be low, so learn to enjoy them all.  Some may say that you need to learn how to remain even-keeled so you are not affected by the ups and downs.  While this may be true to some extent, if you are not riding high on the highs, your employees will read that as a lack of enthusiasm and passion.  That is something you cannot afford.  Instead, be unflappable in adversity and ecstatic in the highs.  (See #3 for the importance of energy.)

2.    Get a partner to share the experience with

Some say that being an entrepreneur is a lonely existence.  This is typically because the one who has the most to lose, the founder, experiences the rollercoaster most acutely.  With a partner, however, you can share in the emotional rollercoaster and help each other cope, supporting each other in the tough times and congratulating each other in the good times.

Also, work with people who challenge and respect you.  They do not have to be your best friends, although they may become so over time.  Nor do they have to be similar to you.  In fact, the more diverse you are, the more interesting the ride will be.  Make sure that you challenge each other in every way possible and learn how to appreciate the challenge. You will be better for it.

3.    There is no substitute for energy (so bring it, find it, hire it, sustain it)

Generally enthusiastic people are rare.  I am lucky in that one of my fellow founders, Erdin Beshimov, is the most enthusiastic person on the face of the planet.  (He was thusly named The Erdinator.)  But if you are not a “generally enthusiastic” person, hire or partner with one.  If you cannot do either of those, you need to find the energy needed to run the company.  I do not mean that you need energy for the actions of running the company, but as the founder, you are like the sun to the earth.  You provide all the energy to power the organization.  If you lack it, so will your organization.  As plants die quickly without the sun, so will your business.  Dig deep, be passionate, and do not fear showing your emotions a little more than usual.

Once your organization has the right level of energy, you need to figure out how to sustain it.  Some ideas include social gatherings outside of work, a fun and lively work environment, and humor on the job.

4.    Take joy in the little victories and have fun!

Sometimes these are the only victories you see for a long time… maybe ever.  Enjoy them while they are here!  If you are not enjoying your startup, change the situation so that you are.  Higher revenue and better performance are only temporary bumps in the “fun-ness.”  But joy in what you are doing lasts well beyond the temporary wins of a marginally increased bottom line.

I hope that by now you recognize that startups are not as glamorous as they appear to be from the outside.  The truth of the matter is that you will have to do a lot of things you do not enjoy doing to get your business off the ground.  But a pessimist never changed the world!  So if you accept the suckiness and forge ahead anyway (which we at MITER encourage you to do!!), make it fun and learn to enjoy the journey!  You have the power to make your startup be whatever you want it to be.  It can be fun or it can be boring, its your choice.  So go out there and find those hidden reservoirs of enthusiasm and desire and you can do the impossible.  We started MITER to build a platform to tell the world how entrepreneurs are changing the world. So if you have the guts, go and do likewise, Reader! Change the world and don’t look back!