As a seed stage investor to young companies (and someone who has previously worked at a brand new startup), I know it’s hard. Really hard. The type of hard where you joke that if founders could properly calculate the odds of succeeding, no one would ever start a company!
Two recent blog posts have stuck in my head which focus on the exception focus, skill and luck you need to build a startup. The first was Jason Calacanis’ “You Don’t Have What it Takes,” which, as the title suggests, is a plea to the 99% of founders who Jason doesn’t think have what it takes to start a company. And there’s nothing wrong with making that choice. As Jason writes:
“You see, what I’ve learned after 25 years of doing this startup thing is that 99% of people simply don’t have what it takes to lead a startup — and thank God. Leading a startup is a brutal pursuit. Most days are a death march in which you work horrific hours under massive duress waiting for your chance … to join the 80% of startups that die off.”
The second was a reminder from an entrepreneur named Paul Smith that just because you raised funding, you can’t take it easy. In fact, you need to work harder. Also provocatively titled “Your Well-Funded Startup Is Already Dead,” Paul observes:
“This isn’t about working until you burn out. No investor wants to see a team implode. But as a founder, you must understand that your startup is your priority for the next five years. That means you won’t see your friends and family as often. It means relationships will suffer from time to time.”
Paul and Jason are speaking 100% truth and they both note that there’s no shame in not founding a company or needing to take a vacation to recharge. BUT…. these posts have been gnawing at me a bit and I can’t exactly put my finger on it. Starting a company – deciding to absorb that risk – should attract a self-selecting group of founders but I also suspect stressing nothing but the long odds, the sacrifices, creates a barrier to entry for entrepreneurs who don’t have role models or a support system around them.
I’d be really interested to understand how posts like these are understood by a white, male Stanford grad versus an equally qualified founder from a more underrepresented segment. How do we help potential entrepreneurs understand the long road ahead of them while letting them know there’s a support system to help them? Frankly, for the industry and for innovation, it’s better that 1% too many people start companies than 1% too few because you never know, you just never know. And maybe that first time doesn’t work but the second time does….