A recent experience has reminded me that not everyone is cut out to work in or launch a startup. Someone was expressing concern over dwindling resources and a few difficulties which had cropped up in the process of reaching a milestone, and the comment was made that maybe it was time to cut back to bare bones, hunker down and get ready to weather the impending storm.
Since that conversation, I’ve struggled to put my finger on the reason that I found the comment so unsettling. And today as I sat in a design meeting with my cofounders and we created a roadmap with several milestones to hit over the next few weeks to meet several commitments we’ve promised to clients as well as many more self-imposed goals to bring new technologies to market, it hit me why I found the advice so unsettling.
There is no room for hunker-down-mode in a startup. Let me repeat that. There is absolutely no room for hunker-down-mode in a startup. If the first sign of gathering clouds on the horizon sends you into the basement to wait out the storm, you probably don’t have the stomach to launch a startup. If you don’t enjoy the challenge of a little rain on your face and some thunder overhead, if living on the edge of danger doesn’t thrill you just a little, then living through the lean, hard times of a startup will seem like misery instead a necessary process to get to the “good stuff”.
And there isn’t anything wrong with understanding that and choosing not to be a part of a startup. It isn’t for everyone. But for those who love the challenge, who see adversity and scarce resources as necessary parts of the process, there is nothing quite like the excitement that comes with staring that fear in the face and moving forward with confidence.
There have been many times over the past five years where I’ve watched the clock turn 3 AM worrying about the difficulties, the roadblocks, the problems. It is a part of the startup experience. But come morning, a new day dawns with another 24 hours to make something new and meaningful happen.
A startup is about creating something new, often something that doesn’t even exist yet. Launching and growing a startup requires continual forward motion. While some businesses can hunker down to weather a downturn in the economy, startups do not have the luxury. There is no waiting out the problem of dwindling resources or a roadblock in the innovation process. Those challenges require a strong momentum forward. If resources are tight, figure out how to do more with what you have – or how to get to revenue faster. If revenue isn’t happening, get your product to market faster or, if it is already market ready, figure out what problem you need to solve for your customer that brings enough value that they’re willing to start paying.
About a year into launching APPCityLife, I looked at our revenue stream – or, more accurately, the lack of one – and knew I hadn’t yet solved a big enough problem. But when we pivoted and started solving problems our clients told us they needed solved, we started signing long-term contracts with new customers. When clients come knocking on your door and hunting your down to talk about their needs, you know you’re finally moving in the right direction. And, no, it isn’t a slam dunk; the odds of success are against every startup that launches. But hunkering down won’t increase those odds; it will ensure the path to failure.
Our team is in the final stretch to releasing several new products that will completely change the game not only for our clients but for an emerging industry in need of solutions. The thrill I had in my heart as I left our team meeting today, after we’d finished mapping out our milestones and it was clear that we were in sight of the goal we’d set for ourselves so many months ago – nothing can replace that. And had we hunkered down to wait out the storms surrounding our company, we wouldn’t have had that experience today.
Fear is a good thing in a startup. It doesn’t pay to be naive about the challenges ahead. But if fear rules the day, a startup is doomed. If you’re in a startup, use that fear to your advantage. Let it fill you with energy and purpose to put that fear to bed by meeting your goals and pushing past the challenges that stand in the way of success. If you can do that, if you enjoy that, nothing, but nothing, beats the startup life.