Don’t kill yourself over a startup

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“Imagine your life many years from now, when the time you have left is best measured in weeks or months instead of years and decades, and 2015 is a distant fading memory. What moments will stand out to you? 

Do you really think it’s going to be that time, all those years ago, when your fairly frivolous app raised money so it could eventually be sold to some unnamed bigger company and shutdown? Or will you think back on your life and remember your wife, your husband, your children, and the friends you made and lost too soon?”

That excerpt comes from an interesting blog post I read a while ago: “In the end, your startup probably doesn’t matter” by Francisco Dao. Now I know a statement like that will rattle the cages of a quite a few startup founders, but he has a good point.

Honestly, now more than ever, there are too many startups. And their chance of success is dismally (or hilariously) low. So don’t let it suck your soul in the process of trying to succeed. It probably won’t happen anyway, and then you’ll have nothing but wasted and empty years to comfort you.

– – –

In another article, “Ten Things A Startup Founder Won’t Tell You”, the author says, “Startup founders are often portrayed as ‘living the dream’… But reality looks a little different.” Below are a few of the things that a founder won’t tell you:

1. Our company is going under.

A sobering note by Alexia Tsotsis: “As popular culture continues to glamorize startups, the harsh reality that 90 percent of them fail is consistently ignored…”

If you’re sure that you’re part of the lucky 10%, then you don’t need to be reading this. But the rest will realize that there’s going to come a time when you’ll have to let go. For the sake of your employees and your sanity.

2. I’m doing more work than you know.

Unless your startup is in the phase where many people are involved, you’ll probably be doing at least triple the amount of work: your job plus a couple more. Furthermore, every little problem, success, or failure that you experience during the startup period become major events in your daily life.

3. I’m struggling with work-life balance. A lot.

Dao points out:

“How many people, even amongst the most successful, will tell you in the end they wished they worked more or spent more time trying to impress strangers? How many will tell you they should have spent less time with friends and family? I suspect the number is very small, and yet the startup community continues to celebrate the choice of work over life.”

Plus it’s not only personal relationships that we abandon, but our health too.

4. I sometimes question the sacrifice I made.

The sacrifice is huge: our money, our personal/social life, our health… and not to mention TIME. But unfortunately there’s this “all or nothing” mentality, as Dao notes:

“Sacrifice is assumed — and those willing to forgo everything that makes life worth living are celebrated for their dedication. Perhaps you’re even one of them. But what are you really breaking yourself for? What’s the payoff for your struggle?”

– – –

Perhaps the most interesting part about Dao’s post was this: that neither money nor passion is the key motivator for startup founders; most of them are highly talented and can easily land a stable, six-figure job:

“The real reason entrepreneurs put themselves through the struggle is for respect and identity. We want to be recognized for something. We want to be remembered. We want people to look at us and say, ‘That’s the guy who did such and such.’”

This is certainly true of a startup founder that I worked with. The product wasn’t that great, and it was free so there was no money coming in. He didn’t care about his customers – really, he didn’t.

What drove him was creating something that he thought was awesome, being “the next big thing”, and of course feeding his increasingly large ego. Needless to say, years later and he still hasn’t earned a dime off his creation; and so far, no one has shown any interest in investing in or acquiring the business.

The point is this: Don’t build a startup for the sake building one. And if you do, don’t kill yourself over it.

“In the end, will the startup you did way back in your 20s or 30s really matter? Unless it actually is the next Google — and if you’re being honest it probably isn’t — will anyone remember you for it?”

I think not.

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