I hate to break it to you, but launching a company sucks. In fact, it really sucks. But does that mean you shouldn’t do it anyway? No, not if you can take the stress of working 60 hour weeks for months at a time to launch a product that’s probably going to fail and leave you jobless and bankrupt.
If that last sentence hasn’t scared you away from striking out on your own and launching a tech startup, then please please PLEASE read this blog post, as it brutally - yet honestly - lays out the truths, hardships, and challenges that are part and parcel of starting a company, along with some advice on how to weather the storm of entrepreneurship, featuring tips from a Toronto Founder Institute talk by Richard Hyatt (ML7 Associate and Founding Partner of Creative Destruction Lab).
Most Entrepreneurs Won’t Survive to the End
Forget the stereotype that launching a company is easy, because the startup life, especially early on, is incredibly hard. Unless you have a team or co-founder who’s willing to work for free in the early months, you’re going to be by yourself, which means that anything and everything that goes wrong has to be fixed by you and you alone.
If You’re Starting a Company Just to Become Successful, You Will Fail
If you launch a startup just to get rich, you will probably end up poor.
If you succeed in your region, you will still most likely struggle to pay your bills each month.
If you plan on starting a company just to sell it, you will have a small chance of finding a buyer.
You need more than just the desire to become successful to actually succeed in the startup world. Remember, only the ones who are ready to dedicate themselves to their companies for the next twenty years or so are ready to become full-fledged entrepreneurs.
Are you ready to make the leap from employee to entrepreneur? Find a Founder Institute program near you!
Forget About Everything You’ve Heard About Launching a Startup
As you set out on the path of entrepreneurship, you will be bombarded with advice from all directions - from people you meet at Meetup groups, from articles on the internet, from interviews you watch. Unfortunately, you will have to ignore much of what you hear because the tech industry is cyclical - what worked six months ago probably won’t work now.
Does Your Startup Idea Pass the “Friend Test”?
Don’t ask your friends for feedback, because they will lie to you, and don’t ask your family, because they’re even worse. If you want honest criticism for your idea, you need to ask people who don’t care about you, as they are the ones most likely to give you a better idea of your offering will be received by the public. In short, refrain from pursuing your idea if can’t others outside of your friends to respond positively to your potential product.
HOWEVER, if you are going to ask your friends and family for feedback, at least describe your company in the third person because it can help remove some of the bias and you will get more honest, instinctive feedback. For example, instead of explaining your company in the context of “My idea is...”, start with something like “I know a person whose idea is...” or “What if there was an app that could…?”
Passion Will Only Take Your Startup So Far
Passion is required to sustain you during the dark times of launching a startup, but it’s not enough to succeed. Everything else is hard work and sacrifice - lots and lots of sacrifice, which means your marriage will suffer and you’ll have to put off seeing your kids’ recitals for the next year or so.
Entrepreneurship is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Startups rarely become successful in just a matter of months, so don’t in with the intention of thinking that your success will be proportional to the speed at which you work. Even the most lucrative companies took a year or more to prosper.
Focus is Key to Your Success
Too many aspiring entrepreneurs think that the best offerings have multiple features, or that they need to launch in any markets to succeed. This is false; start with one thing, and do it well. Whether it’s a product or a market, master one aspect of your company before moving on to another.
You Have to Have a Pain to Have a Product
Your offering shouldn’t merely be variation on a preexisting product, as that will not take you very far. To really have a valuable product, there must be widespread pain or need that only your offering can address. Once you’ve found a gap in the market, make sure it’s a pain that many people share to ensure that you have the widest potential customer base.
Understand the “Why” Behind Your Startup Idea
Just because you have a great idea for a startup doesn’t mean that you should pursue it. If you see your idea as little more than a stepping stone towards something greater, than forget about. However, if your idea keeps you up at night just thinking about it, it’s something that aligns with your values, and it’s something that you can get others just as excited about, then you might be on the right track.
Don’t Just Understand Your Market - Master It
Not only do you have to understand the demands of your market, you also have to be able to forecast what your market will need in the coming months, and even years. Also, don’t take the easy road and simply add a feature on a preexisting solution. Creating something that’s only a step up from what’s currently available will not lead to long-term success, so put in the extra time and research to determine what the real problem is and an original solution to it.
Don’t Fear Change - Embrace It
Don’t become so attached to your idea when you first begin, because unless you’re a natural born genius (and you probably aren’t), your idea will have to go through numerous changes and iterations before it becomes viable. This will put off many budding founders who are easily discouraged by a few failures, but the ones who succeed are the those who accept that their product needs work - and actually put in the work to perfect it.
Starting a Company Will Take Up All of Your Time - and It Still Won’t Be Enough
In the early months of a burgeoning startup, it will feel like there simply isn’t enough time to solve every problem, answer every call, and fix every bug. But you know what? That’s exactly how it should be, because starting a company requires every spare moment of your time - and more - and that’s what it takes to win. So if you think that launching a successful company is something that can be done as a fun little side project, think again.
Practice Mindfulness to Get through the 48 Hour Days
Yes, I know that there are not 48 hours in a day, but if you want your company to prosper, you’ll have to put in 48 hours' worth of work each day. And that’s why it’s so important for you to learn how to deal with the stress and failure of launching a startup. Take a few minutes out of every day to focus on the present, to declutter your head of thoughts, and reenter the world with a clear mind. Don’t worry about what needs to happen tomorrow, next week, or next month. Instead, focus on what needs to happen now. Then, once you’ve finished the task at hand, move on to the next task with the same clarity of mind, with no other purpose than what needs to be accomplished in that moment.
This blog post isn’t meant to scare everyone away - it’s just meant to scare those who think that launching a startup is easy. If you are having second thoughts about starting a company, that’s ok, as there is no shame in being sensible about what you are going to do with the rest of your life. However, for those of you who still think you have what it takes to build a business and change the world, you just might have what it takes (emphasis on the world “might”).