During his famous speech back in 1993 Jim Valvano said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” I realize that it’s not for everybody, but if you’re looking to live a full day, every day than you would love working at a startup. You might even get lucky and be part of a team that builds something special.
It seems like a million years ago now but I'll never forget the lack of emotion at my first job. I would sit at my desk performing operational tasks over and over again. It really wasn’t always that way. During the first couple of years I was generally engaged, interested and happy at work. However, after some time those feelings began to disappear. I realized that I craved an exciting environment full of ups and downs. I was too young and had too much fire in my belly for a stable corporate lifestyle.
During the first few months working on Revivn, Anthony and I often had little control over our emotions. This is normal for first time founders- things can get extremely exciting or very depressing rather quickly. I remember when we first got our initial product to market. Our expectations were extremely high and unrealistic. When we realized the first version of our product sucked, we were depressed for two weeks. It was hard to get up in the morning and keep working. After all our hard work realizing that we needed to start over was a tough pill to swallow. As Paul Graham writes in his essay: What Startups are Really Like, the ups and downs are often more extreme than founders are prepared for.
After those first few failures we began to bounce back quickly. At this point we're prepared for the mood to change every hour. During any given day we may have a bad meeting at 8am, get great news at lunch and then get back to work in the afternoon only to have to deal with a legal issue until 1 in the morning. As a founder you try (and should) learn something from each event. However, you'll soon realize that the random events that occur are just part of being on a startup rollercoaster. Don’t waste time analyzing why things happen. The worst thing you can do is blame yourself for an event that was simply a result of randomness.
Startup emotions are difficult to control and can lead to burn out. It’s like game day is everyday. Every morning you wake up having no idea what’s going to happen. The highs and lows are dangerous. Things can fall apart quickly. Remember that it’s your job to pay attention and understand your emotions. Staying in control of them and learning from rejection is critical for success. Read More
Breaking into a new community is extremely difficult. I knew leaving my job to work full time on Revivn would be tough, but I honestly didn't realize how long it would take to really "break in". I think almost every single person I knew prior to starting Revivn was either a lawyer or working in finance, not startups. After reading about some other people who've made different transitions during their careers I realized it was just going to take time. Most people give up after a few months but networking takes years and never really ends.
Everybody asks who you should look to meet and spend time with. Personally, there are four "categories" of people that have been truly helpful to me. Don't like to categorize but it's just how my mind works sometimes. These four groups are other similar stage entrepreneurs, people right behind you, people right ahead of you and leaders. For me the community I was joining was startups/tech but I believe this can apply to anything.
Other entrepreneurs are my personal favorite because they are so easy to relate to. They've committed similar resources and are equally focused on building something from scratch. They're going through the same challenges. They're who you can be very honest with. They give great feedback and they're easy to talk to. They're probably considering the same incubators and accelerators that you are. However, there is only so much you can do to help each other out. Spend time with them, but save more for others.
People that are 6 months to a year behind you are probably the most diverse group. When I say behind, I mean maybe they're still at a corporate job and building something on the side. Maybe they are considering transitioning to a startup or want to start a company but just attended their first tech event. They are full of potential and probably haven't experienced either the highs or the lows that you have. Some will never end up leaving their current job and give up on whatever they were thinking about doing. Regardless, these are always people that you can help out. I think this is usually the beginning of how you can give back through an ecosystem.
The third group is people that are 6 months to a year ahead of you. You're bootstrapping, they've raised some money. You're still releasing the initial version of your product, they already have an established product . You have a few customers, they have a lot of customers. These people are often very busy and sometimes hard to connect with so it's important to let them know you appreciate their time when they do help you out. Be patient with them and they'll come through for you over time.
The final people to meet in your new community are the leaders. They've been here for a while. They know all the little secrets. And they probably are 5, 10 or even 20 years ahead of you from a career standpoint. They don't have to spend any time with you so be cordial and take some extra time to educate yourself on their background. The best way to learn from them is to know where they can help you out most. Don't be afraid to be direct and follow up with them.
Remember that there is never a perfect time to start transitioning from one community to another. If you think you are climbing the wrong hill, there is a good chance you are. Last year I didn't just go from a full time job at a regulatory agency to building my own startup- I joined the startup career path. The path where there is little certainty and things can change drastically month by month. I'm glad I somehow made it here and look forward to more unexpected happenings this year.