5 ‘Shocking’ things founding a startup

Its been a real eye opener starting-up a new company. We’ve been doing it now for over two years. After many life experiences I try to limit my expectations when going into something new. I believe having an open mind is the best way to enjoy a new experience. On our startup journey I’ve been surprised, and even shocked, by the sheer scale of the challenge and the help you do and don’t receive.

(image dedicated to the memory of Jeffery Walker and his great blog posts)

Startup experiences fall into to camps – the positive and the negative. This is typical of the roller coaster of a ride that a startup is. Lets get the negative out the way first:

  1. Doubt – I still find it shocking how many people doubt your startup. Even when you’ve had some success they still doubt. The most shocking thing is the doubt can come from the closest people around you – family, friends, ex-coworkers, etc. To overcome this doubt I’ve relied on the positive people and startup friends.
  2. Hard work – I’ve worked hard in my career. Startups take hard work to a new level. The shocking thing is there’s too much to do. You can’t possibly do it all. And do a good job at everything. The only answer is to prioritize and work damn hard!
  3. Time – Everything takes much longer than you plan, want or need. In a bigger company, with a comfortable salary, you have much more time to make decisions and get things done. In a startup you have shockingly limited time and resources (money) to make something, sell it and survive.
  4. Startup Karma – Other founders help you out expecting no return. Its surprise and shocks you when it happens. They’ve survived to tell their tale and know exactly how hard it really is e.g. point (1) & (2). They become your first customers or are customers who take you to the next level. It’s like an unwritten code – help other startups, when they really need it. The catch is, startup Karma can’t be forced. You can’t ask for it. It just happens.
  5. Excitement – I’ve had a very exciting career having worked in London for several years, worked for a leading global software manufacturer and grown a outsource service internationally. Having a startup is an even more exciting experience. It’s all-consuming. It’s like being in a tornado – your pulled in every direction. It seems like chaos and changes often and could all come crashing down at any minute. Startups are certainly not for the fait-hearted!

I’ve heard this and repeated it before – startups are a roller-coaster of a ride. This is the biggest shock for me. One minute you feel like you can conquere the world when you win a key deal or a startup founder helps you out. The next minute someone close tells you to ‘get a real job’ or  you miss a vital product deadline. You’ve got to learn to keep a level head and deal with the way it is. Thumbs up 😉

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11 Responses to “5 ‘Shocking’ things founding a startup”

  1. Paul Walsh Says:

    Liked the blog, Nick.

    There’s one other point about life in startups, and it is that you and your co-founders can influence the culture of a company. No matter how much you liked working for former employers, there’s no way you can shape it to the same extent.

    I also got a lot from following the link to Jeffrey Walker’s blog. Atlassian know about the above point. It occurred to me reading it that a friend and I once discovered the secret of LifeBliss(tm) and didn’t realise it at the time. It’s a simple formula, just three ingredients and mix: Music, Sushi and Martinis 😉

  2. Mark Bower (Connectegrity) Says:

    Brilliant post. We are just getting started but have experienced all five already. I put #1 down to envy mostly. I think most people would love to have a crack at what we are trying to achieve but for whatever reason can’t or won’t.

  3. Nick Barker Says:

    Pleased you enjoyed it Paul 🙂

    Great point on co-founders. It wouldn’t be a good situation if you were unpleasantly surprised, or even shocked, about your choice co-founder once the startup is founded. It is not an easy thing choosing one. Paul Graham (Y Combinator) talks about the importance of a have a good co-founder in this post What startups are really like. As his blog says “It’s like we’re married, but we’re not fucking.”:

    “Be Careful with Cofounders – This was the surprise mentioned by the most founders. There were two types of responses: that you have to be careful who you pick as a cofounder, and that you have to work hard to maintain your relationship.

    What people wished they’d paid more attention to when choosing cofounders was character and commitment, not ability. This was particularly true with startups that failed. The lesson: don’t pick cofounders who will flake…”

    I think co-founders can work for or against startups. Together they set the tone for the organisational culture. When they work together well it is a wonderful opportunity for a blossoming company culture.

    Jeffrey Walker was a good man! Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar of Atlassian have created a great company culture where the staff genuinely seem to enjoy themselves and feel part of something. I definitely strive for that – I believe Simon, my co-founder, does too.

    LifeBliss(tm)… can you get that in the shops 😉 I know Jeffrey Walker definitely loved his Music and the occasional Martinis! You’re probably right – relax, love your hobbies and enjoy yourself. Not always an easy thing to do when in a startup but worth it if you do 😉

  4. Richard Gigg Says:

    Nick

    I acknowledge you for sharing your learnings, you won’t be surprised to hear that most businesses no matter where they are in the timeline of the company say the same things about starting up.

    Check out the articles on the Shirlawsonline website or download the free ebook at http://www.shirlawscoaching.co.uk both will give you a great deal of help to get to a point where you stop looking over your shoulder just in case it doesn’t work.

  5. Nick Barker Says:

    Hi Richard,

    No, it does not surprise me at all – I often say (or think) the obvious is all around us all the time. We are also all often going through the same set of emotions, even when we think it just us!

    Thanks for the link. Don’t look back 😉

  6. Margaret Burrell Says:

    Great post Nick!

    As you say, start-ups are a roller-coaster of emotions. However, the thing I like most is that, even in those early months, when there is less money coming in the door than you would like, you know that every penny which you receive is down to people having chosen to deal with you or having recommended you to others. You never get that level of personal satisfaction from working for someone else!

  7. Nick Barker Says:

    Thanks Margaret!

    Excellent point. Over the last few weeks we have been interviewing several of our customers for case studies. We’ve been overwhelmed with the positive feedback. Our customers have been making significant changes on the back of using our product. We’ve made a real different 🙂 That is very satisfying.

    I’ve found often that the harder you work on something you really want to do, the more rewards the positive results.

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