Founder = Learning To Juggle While Riding A Unicycle On A TightRope

Being a founder is often hard to describe.  When you are asked, “what do you do” at parties or other social events, it’s easier to brush it off and not bring up the fact that you are a founder of your own company, just so you don’t have to go into how crazy it is.  When they realize you are a “founder” and you have a “startup”, it’s quite impressive to them.  They think it’s all glitz and glamor.  “Oh” they say, “that must be really fun!”  They think you make a ton of money and instantly give you more credit than you deserve.   They almost give you rock star status.

Or, ironically, they don’t give you enough credit.

The problem is they have no clue what you are going through and what it took just to get to where you are right now.  They have no idea how much you gave up to get here.  They don’t understand you don’t go back to a desk in an building owned by the company you work for, push some pieces of paper around, report to a boss, provided daily meals by your employer, given a shiny mobile device and a cushy salary with benefits.

They don’t actually realize NONE of that is included.   They have no idea you have given up everything in your life for this moment.

They also have no idea being a founder is like learning to juggle while riding a unicycle on a tightrope.

Why would I use such an analogy?

Most people’s idea of a founder is Steve Jobs – Miraculous.  Incredible.   Innovator.   Charismatic.  Leader.  Someone who’s all put together and very wealthy.  Use whatever descriptive words you want but they will be wrong.

Sorry to ruin the fun, but as founders we are generally running around like a chicken with our heads cut off trying to put out the latest fire threatening to burn down our dream.  Most things presented to you will be foreign and scary as hell to fix.  Customers will leave you.  Investors will say no.  Tech will fail.  Team members will leave.   Bank accounts will go dry.  And that’s just par for the course each day.

Most of the time you have no idea what you are doing or what the right move is, you are just putting one foot in front of the other and feeling your way around the dark room.

It’s feels like this: you attend to one thing, and just when you think you have it figured out another thing pops up.  So now you have two things to look over and figure out.  Yet before you know it, instantly another issue arises.  But this one is specifically attached to how you actually make money so you must drop everything else and go figure it out.  Hopefully, once you get that figured out you remember what the last issue was so you can return and fix it.

Learning. To. Juggle. While. Riding. A. Unicycle. On. A. TightRope.

Yes, it feels that tiring each and every day.  Next time you find out someone is a founder, please just give them a hug and ask them what you can do to help.

And you know what?  Juggling and riding unicycles also have their benefits and the analogy works the other way.  More on that topic at a later date.

2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back Is The Crazy Entrepreneurial Path We All Follow

We as entrepreneurs have a jaded view of the world we live in.  It’s a disease actually.  We look out onto the horizon seeing opportunity, wealth, fame, fortune or whatever gets us up each day and disregard the inevitable barriers which lay in our way.  But it’s not always up and the the right, within our journey failure sits awaiting; steps forward and steps backward.  It’s natural and should be expected.

Already for me, this summer has been a microcosm of the entrepreneurial journey.  Courageously leaving a full time job at the beginning of May, quickly learning what I thought was my next gig actually wasn’t, setting out on my own to make ends meet, continually reaching out and connecting with various CEO’s and local entrepreneurs each week, starting to write daily and beginning to reach people like yourself, interviewing everyone from CEO’s like Bryan Trussell of Glympse to entertainers like Sir Mix-A-Lot, being approached to cover topics and startups I never would have imagined a few months ago, being approached by numerous startups with offers to join, and ultimately accepting an offer that is currently forming into my next venture.

Yea, I know… all that in about 90 days.   Words cannot describe this experience, but somewhere in between exhilarating and terrifying would be accurate.

As you can see by my short summer filled with opportunity, the entrepreneurial path is always 2 steps forward, one step back.  The important thing is at the very least you are always moving forward.  If it were one step forward, two steps back – you would be sinking.  Let’s hope you aren’t going that way.

It’s times like these I grab my copy of Founders At Work, a book which has helped me through similar challenging times.  As a collection of startup and early day stories of some of the more well known technology companies from the past 25 years, it is my entrepreneurial medicine.   It gives inside perspectives on the founding of various companies starting with Lotus, Apple all the way to Flickr and Craigslist, almost like you are there with them.  You can feel their pain and experience their triamph all the while secretly wishing/hoping you will one day grace similar pages.  Through reading incredible stories like overcoming insurmountable challenges , founder disagreements, backstabbing, near bankruptcy, exploding revenue, and going public you realize every entrepreneur faces an uphill battle and your situation, although unique, is not impossible.

You will also see that each is a unique story of two steps forward, one step back.  Apple was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in a garage in 1976 and got initial steps forward because of the Homebrew Computer Club.  Paypal, founded by Max Levchin, was a security and cryptography service for transferring money between PDA’s before becoming a web payments company.  Founders like you and me need to understand all these large and successful companies we read about each day all started with a lot of hard work and as just an idea.  Usually that idea wasn’t what you see today and those billoinare founders were a lot like you – scrappy, dissatisfied, hungry and motivated.

Tw0 steps forward, one step back.

Another way to think about it is what Seth Godin calls The Dip. Put bluntly, he visually describes the path people encounter in life, where to be great one has to go through the challenging trough to emerge on a higher level.  It’s a book about avoiding temptation and gravity and becoming the best in the world.

I’m amazed at how quickly people will stand up and defend not just the status quo but the inevitability of it. We’ve been taught since forever that the world needs joiners and followers, not just leaders. We’ve been taught that fitting in is far better than standing out, and that good enough is good enough.

Which might have been fine in a company town, but doesn’t work so well in a winner-take-all world. Now, the benefits that accrue to someone who is the best in the world are orders of magnitude greater than the crumbs they save for the average. No matter how hard working the average may be.

I’ve never met anyone… anyone… who needed to settle for being average. Best is a slot that’s available to everyone, somewhere.

Two steps forward, one step back.

That’s how we roll as entrepreneurs – somehow, someway moving forward.  I believe how you approach the one step back will make all the difference in your life.  Knowing it is a natural step in your evolutionary process as en entrepreneur will help you use it as a stabilizer, not a fall backwards.

These are exciting times, and although constant talk concerning the economic health of our nation is getting louder, I am not going to let it deafen my voice.  Neither should you.  Take the backward step in stride and then look forward as you readily take your next one.