Evolution Of A Founder: Up, Down, Up, Down, Up, Down, Sideways, Up, Down…

Much has been written about the founding experience yet I still feel like more needs to be said about the journey.  Since it is unique to all of us, no one article or blog post will be a sufficient summary of what to do and how to do it.

Life is never that easy.

Hilly RoadThe thing is, you will read one post from someone who is on the upswing, just having raised millions of dollars of funding or sold to Facebook and they’re all giddy about life.  Good for them!

Next article you will hear from someone who has just seen their business tank and is reeling in pain and defeat. Bummer for them.  You will start to notice it’s up and down, up, down, up, down and maybe a little sideways sliding in the middle of all of it.

I think the best approach (and the one I am employing) is to make a daily habit of reading other people’s perspectives and experiences, especially as founders and investors.  This helps me achieve and maintain a pulse of how to best navigate the choppy waters ahead.  I don’t pretend to know everything and don’t expect any one person to know it all either.  So, I make it a habit to cast a wide net on my daily learning.  I grab from other founders and entrepreneurs.  I pull from investors and VC’s whom I have an affinity for in their writings.  I gauge how the startup community is doing based on TechCrunch, Pandodaily, GigaOm, TheNextWeb, VentureBeat, BusinessInsider and other media outlets.  I cast a wide net, gather the information, digest it and make it my own.

The beauty of entrepreneurship is that it is unique in circumstances for each one of us.  Some of us have it easier.  Some of us have it harder.  Some were born into money and instantly have financial backers for their projects.  The rest of us – we must feel and find our way through the room with no lights on.

You, as an entrepreneur, need both perspectives.  You need to learn about how to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly if you are going to survive as an entrepreneur.  Om Malik, founder of GigaOm wrote a great piece recently on his journey as a founder.  Below, I have grabbed a few lessons I saw in it I felt were pretty telling:

Lesson Learned: You have to walk before you run. As a founder, you often don’t understand the gulf between your vision of the future and the reality in which a business exists. It is important to find the right balance between the two.

Lesson Learned: Shun consensus. Don’t be shy about making difficult decisions. If you have conviction, zig when everyone is zagging. After all, the worst that can happen is that you fail. If you don’t try, you don’t fail. You don’t fail, you don’t learn. You don’t learn, you will have failed anyway.

Lesson Learned: People who believe in you also want to succeed. They will work better if you encourage them, not micromanage them. Empower them to win.

Expanding on what Om is eluding to, I believe founders don’t really understand what they are getting themselves into and where they are going right out of the gate.  And that is OK, even expected.  At the time of founding (the)Facebook, how was Mark Zuckerberg supposed to know he was going to create one the largest web service in the world, reaching over 1 billion people (and still growing) making him a billionaire.

No way he could have known that.  If he knew that it would have scared him so much he probably wouldn’t have continued.

Yet he walked before he ran.  He knew he needed to get other smart people around him to help build out his vision.  He started by just focusing on Harvard.  Then Yale.  Then the Ivy League.   Then other universities.  Then high schools.  Then everyone.  Walking.  Before.  Running.

At times, it’s almost easier for founders to have too large of vision and be blinded by what they see.  They end up frozen by the blindness and not even focusing on the right foot being placed in front of the left.  If you didn’t catch it, that’s all that is required for walking.

Right, Left, right, left….

If you don’t try, you don’t fail. You don’t fail, you don’t learn. You don’t learn, you will have failed anyway.  

A truer sentence has never been written.  Failing, or learning, is the essence of entrepreneurship and must be embraced by anyone setting out on the journey.   Success is only a result of entrepreneurship.  I think we get those two facts confused as we blindly pursue our ventures, pushing forward with all our might and not taking into account what we are learning in the process.

I am lightyears ahead of where I was when I started Seconds just 15 months ago.  Yet, if I am not careful I will take a bianary view of my last 15 months and see there has not been a huge round of funding raised, acquisition to Google or IPO on the NASDAQ.

Does that mean I failed?  Hell no.

But that is what the media tries to tell us when they write posts saying “XYZ shuts down!”  StartupX fails to raise money, CEO quits

I urge you to dive deeper into the details when you read that stuff, since they are playing the age old game of news reporting. If you dive further into the story, researching the founders and finding their blogs, you will learn a lot more about the journey and probably the real reason why they chose to go a different direction.  Although lack of resources lead to dying companies, those founders will teach you more about how to start and grow a company than any “XYZ startup raises $10m series A” funding article will ever teach you.

Study the ups and the downs and figure out how others navigated the choppy waters of entrepreneurship.  Cast a wide net and allow all perspectives to sink in to your subconscious so you can make it your own.  No one person or blog post can tell you how it is and what to do.  It takes years to learn all there is to this game.

Actually you will never learn it all.  Just enough to be dangerous.