I’m always amused when most businesses advertise themselves as a “startup.” I mean I don’t blame them, startups are hot. They’re hotter than Christina Hendricks in a ‘67 Mustang in a low-cut retro dress. If you live in Boston, San Francisco or New York City, you can’t go a day without someone hustling you for a rockstar ninja developer or why their geo-social-mango app is better because it uses Mixpanel instead of KISSmetrics to do their A/B tests. We’re a cool group. But truthfully, we’re a small, scrappy group. Startup - meaning starting up. Revving the engines. Beginning a new journey. Fresh starts are naive, desperate and starved. But so many of our business brethren advertise themselves as this and clearly are not.
Ah, yes, the big company that feels like a startup. I mean, this has got to be the biggest con of all. How can you possibly convince someone that your 5,000 employee international business, which has gone public, feels like a startup? Is it small teams? Indepedence and lack of company bureacracy? That’s like saying Michigan State feels like Williams if you happen to be in a small class with a personable professor.
It doesn’t matter how small the team is and how much autonomy you have, if you have a mission statement on expensive posterboard plastered throughout your 10 North American offices, you’re going to have to deal with the big business feel. It’s impossible to avoid. Have a revolutionary product idea? Good luck getting the CEO on the phone, you’ll probably have to go through your product manager, and if he/she likes it they’ll tell the team/general manager, who will tell a Vice President, who, by the time it gets to the CEO, will probably be credited to someone else. Nothing wrong with being a big business. I’d like to own one some day. But I won’t pretend I’m something I’m not.
On the complete opposite end is the Idea Guy. All talk, no walk. If I had a nickel for every time I had an Idea Guy tell me he just needed me to code up his idea and then we can talk a salary and a few percentage points of equity, I’d be able to buy quite a few Quarter Pounders with Cheese. Therefore, to sound more credible, Idea Guys say they’re “working on a startup.”
I’m sorry sir/ma’am, you’re unemployed. Or you’re employed and you’re vetting ideas after work. That is all. Until you can execute on getting customer interest, investor interest, or just doing it yourself, you’re not going to win me, or any other developer, over with just your idea. I have a friend who just left the financial sector to get in on the startup world. But rather be an Idea Guy, he jumped right in and started coding, and he’s never done it before. I don’t think he realizes how much ass he’s kicking.
First he’s kicking ass because he’s executing, and that wins him a lot of respect. Second, he’s showing that he’s willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means being the Alpha and the Omega of his business. Execution and tenacity are the cornerstones for a successful entrepreneur. If you’ve got an idea, do whatever you can to make it a reality before you drag someone else in.
Real startups are hungry. Starving. Trying.
Some days you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea so genius that this product innovation alone with get your investors begging to write more checks. You wonder how much you’d get for an easy talent acquisition and if buying a condo in cash would be a sound financial investment. Other days you’re convinced no one believes in you and that you’re going bankrupt from the 50th venture capitalist rejection in the last month, hoping you have enough saved up to battle this economy in case you have trouble finding a job.
Some days you’re so full of jubilation and awe that this is your life — you wake up at 11 am, walk into work in sandals, and you work revolves around this thing you are so passionate about. You are fulfilling your destiny of being in control of your life - you do what you want, when you want, while your friends slave away in the miasma of the 9-to-5 daze. Other days that damn tooth ache comes back and your mom is nagging why you don’t get it taken care of, but you’re too ashamed to tell her that you haven’t had dental insurance for years and can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket. You pray that this year will be the year.
In real startups, no one holds your hand. They can’t — because your hands are too busy trying holding on to the edge, hoping you have enough strength, despite being so hungry, to endure the climb to the top before your grip lets loose.
Here’s to reaching the top.