Entrepreneurs: Beating the employee out of you

Being a startup founder is poles apart from being an employee. During my 20 year employment career I’ve worked for small tech companies and large software manufacturers. I’ve now had a web app startup for the last two years. Like many I’ve been taught by successive employers how to behave as an employee. My attitude has had to change with our startup because uncertainty abounds and as founder’s we’re responsible for everything.

FightClub self beating

Edward Norton beating himself out of employment
in the movie FlightClub.

Last year I met Ben Way who started running companies at 15! Ben’s now the grand age of 29. I spoke to Ben about his startup life and he said ” I’ve always known it this way and don’t know it any differently.” Having a startup, particularly one where you are trying to build a product, requires a very different approach from being an employee. You have to change your outlook and the way you manage your time:

  1. Job security – There is none!  Remember what it was like when one of your past jobs was in jeopardy and uncertain abounded. That is what it is like everyday in a startup, get used to it.
  2. Salary – In a startup, particularly if you are building a product, there is no money posted into your bank account every month. Get used to living frugally.
  3. Structure – You don’t have the hierarchy of a company to rely on. You have to do everything. From setting strategic direction to putting out the trash (rubbish)
  4. Discipline – There is nobody telling you what to do. This sounds great, however it does mean you have to be totally self disciplined.
  5. Direction – Too much freedom can be a bad thing. You can become paralyzed by uncertainty. You must maintain a focus on where you are going.
  6. Massive Overload – There is too much to do in a startup. Much more than any other job I’ve ever had. And I’ve worked for small 10 person companies before. You have to prioritize.
  7. Tough decisions – You continually have to make difficult decisions which have significant downstream effects. If you’re a procrastinator stop it and make decisions. Afterall a decision is better than no decision at all.

Many employees dream of having their own company. The reality is that it’s whole new world. In a startup the highs are higher and the lows are lower. It much more of an emotional roller coaster of a ride than being an employee.  The challenge of building a company is extremely exciting. And the ability to create in a startup is immensely rewarding. However the workload, responsiblity and uncertainty can sometimes make the whole process  seem overwhelming. There certainly is never a dull moment in the life of a startup.

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10 Responses to “Entrepreneurs: Beating the employee out of you”

  1. Sasha Muradali Says:

    That’s an interesting read Nick. I think #1 and #7 are the reasons most people don’t venture out on their own.

    But at the same time, I don’t their entrepreneurship is as bleak as you almost make it sound. The thing is, I think it takes a certain type of person to want to go out there and ‘do it alone.’ Like anything else, it has its ups and downs. At the end of the day, you have to LOVE it and WANT it bad enough, while sacrificing for the betterment of your project, to make it work.

    You’re right though, there is never a dull moment.

  2. Ben Says:

    … Just read this one!

    About point no. 1. Arguably there may be less ‘job security’ in a start-up, but at least you have more control over it.

    I’d rather be in a position where i’m taking the responsibility for my employment (and creating emplyment opportunities for others) than a capricious director who may decide the firm needs to reduce its headcount, and consequently your job is at risk… through no fault of your own!

  3. Nick Barker Says:

    Thanks for the comment Sasha!!

    Having a startup is an amazing experience and truly rewarding. Since starting-up I’ve found employees can somethings think ‘the grass is greener on the other side.’

    In many ways being a founder is better but it’s also much more challenging than being an employee. Its a very different experience and takes alot of sacrifice. This is not for everyone.

    Anyone going down the startup route should be aware of the real obstacles on route to a successful startup. Paul Graham recently said:

    “I’d rather have everyone think starting a startup is grim and hard than have founders go into it expecting it to be fun, and a few months later saying “This is supposed to be fun?”.

  4. Nick Barker Says:

    Good to hear your still following the blog Ben 🙂

    I’ve been in the situation you describe before. As an employee you do feel out of control. It’s damn frustrating! However a startup does not necessary bring control either.

    The great thing about a startup v’s a larger company is that organizational politics is removed. See my post: “Running a start-up is like being punched in the face repeatedly… but working for a large company is like being waterboarded.”

    The only person that really needs to be convinced in a startup is the customer. They are the ones in control. The challenge for startup founders is being heard by potential customers long enough for them to buy your service/product.

  5. Nick Barker Says:

    Ben Way’s Twitter comment:

    “Good Stuff”

  6. Nick Barker Says:

    Nicholas Bruce Twitter comment:

    “good points well made..”

  7. Dennis Hollinngworth Says:

    Oh, but the joys of no-more ‘Sunday afternoon syndrome’ “(3pm) ‘Only 16 hours till I have to be at work’, and the lack of ‘asking’ for a couple of hours off to attend the dentist/school parents evening/collect the car from the garage, etc, etc.
    And, what EXPOSURE you get and an EDUCATION in buisness, THE complete A to Z, that you won’t get in any Co.

  8. Mark Pritchard Says:

    I’ve worked in recruitment since 1998. I had made my previous employers a lot of money and realised that I should be doing it for myself. I started my business in 2006 and it’s worked. The problem that you first face is that you have to suddenly become a reasonable master of so many different skill sets. (My personal favourite, VAT returns) This year has been a tough one and some good clients have bitten the dust, so uncertainty does need to be factored in but I know that I will be in business next year and the year after that without the magic finger of redundancy being pointed in my direction. Plus I’m not sitting in an office from 8am until 6pm with someone demanding more and more sales from me with unrealistic targets. The benefits are that I have always made at least as much as I did when I was employed. Yet, if I need to be somewhere as Dennis said above, I can plan my own diary. The pressure comes from the clients not targets and coloured graphs. If you can’t handle pressure then you have to think hard about going it alone. If you are married and have kids then you are taking them with you and that raises the stakes. I was lucky because my wife gave me 100% support. Cheers babe!

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