Posted by Nick Booth
August 1st, 2007
Success can makes it all look so easy, or so web entrepreneur Glenn Kelman argues on Guy Kawasaki’s blog.
Much of what he says may be specific to Silicon Valley style tech start-ups, but there’s something in here for any leader, so I’ll quote a thinned out chunk:
…successful entrepreneurs can’t be convinced that any other startup has their troubles, because they constantly compare the triumphant launch parties and revisionist histories of successful companies to their own daily struggles. Just so you know you’re not alone, here’s a top-ten list of the ways a startup can feel deeply screwed up without really being that screwed up at all.
- True believers go nuts at the slightest provocation. The best people at a start-up care too much. They stay up late writing Jerry Maguire memos, eavesdropping on support calls, snapping at bureaucracy, citing Joel Spolsky on Aerons, and Paul Graham on cubes. They are your heart and bones, so you have to give them what they need, which is a lot. The only way to get them on your side is to put them in charge.
- Big projects attract good people. If you aren’t doing something worthwhile, you can’t get anyone worthwhile to work on it. I often think about what Ezra Pound once said of his epic poem, that “if it’s a failure, it’s a failure worth all the successes of its age.” You need a big mission to recruit people who care about what you’re doing.
- Start-ups are freak-catchers. You have to be fundamentally unhappy with the way things are to leave Microsoft, and yet unrealistic enough to believe the world can change to join a start-up. This is a volatile combination which can result in group mood swings and a somewhat motley crew.
- Good code takes time. To make something elegant takes time, and the cult of speed sometimes works against that. “Make haste slowly.”
- Everybody has to re-build. The short-cuts you have to take and the problems you couldn’t anticipate when building version 1.0 of your product always mean you’ll have to rebuild some of it in version 2.0 or 3.0. Don’t get discouraged or short-sighted. Just rebuild it. This is just how things work.
- Fearless leaders are often terrified. The CEO of the most promising start-up I know of recently used Hikkup to anonymously ask his Facebook friends if we thought his idea was any good. Just because you’re worried doesn’t mean you have a bad idea; the best ideas are often the ones that scare you the most. And for sure don’t believe the after-the-fact statements from entrepreneurs about how they “knew” what to do.
- It’ll always be hard work. Most start-ups find an interesting problem to solve, then just keep working on it. most entrepreneurs remain fixated on the Eureka! moment. If you don’t believe you have any reliable competitive advantage, you’re the kind of insecure person who will work your competition into the ground, so keep working.
- It isn’t going to get better–it already is. In the early days, start-ups focus on how great it’s going to be when they succeed; but the moment they do, they start talking about how great it was before they did. If you can begin to enjoy the process of building a start-up rather than the outcome, you’ll be a better leader.
- Truth is our only currency. At lunch last week, an engineer said the only thing he remembered from his interview was our saying the most likely outcome for Redfin–or any startup–was bankruptcy, but that he should join us anyway. It’s odd but the more we’ve tried to warn people about the risks, the more they seem to ignore them.
- Competition starts at $100 million. A Sequoia partner once told me that competition only starts when you hit $100 million in revenues. Maybe that number is lower now. But if you do something worthwhile, someone else will do it too. Since you can’t see what’s going on behind a competitor’s pretty website, it’s natural to assume that all the challenges we just went over only apply to your company. They don’t, so keep the faith.