PTSD (Post Traumatic Startup Disorder)
Something to keep in mind before the entrepreneurial plunge!
People share various metaphors for joining and working in a startup like ‘It’s a rollercoaster’, ‘Riding a rocketship’ and various other amusement park themed references.
I agree with pretty much all of them with one very important addition.
There are no seat belts.
1. What you expect:
Especially after life on the corporate side, the expectations of startups have been glorified by tech companies and movies (especially a company that rhymes with Moogle).
While there are fun and games in startups, they ideally don’t end up being very regular occurrences. More often than not, you’ll find a mind-numbing amount of things to do, too few people and resources to do it with and no guardrails or guidelines to help get it done (typical in early stage startups, the larger ones typically bring in processes but more about that later).
One of my very first days at an early stage startup involved spending all weekend relabelling and repacking our first private label of clothing because the manufacturer had put the wrong sizing on every product.
It was endless 1. Unpack 2. Remove Label 3. Put Label on correct product 4. Repack
This demonstrates one of the key things to remember, grit is good. The earlier the company, the more ground level work you need to put in (in addition to financial modelling, sales, marketing and whatever your actual job description entails).
2. Getting addicted
After a while, like veteran returning from war, adrenaline and the hectic pace become a way of life. If things aren’t moving at a 1000 miles an hour you tend to feel that if things aren’t moving fast enough, nothing is happening.
This also ends up adding to frustration when projects don’t deliver results immediately and could lead to a key problem I dub “Can we 100x this?”
Towards the beginning, I leant towards the 100x mentality, chasing quick results and wins over waiting for ideas with a longer germination time to come to fruit.
If an idea needs execution, rather than put it into the roadmap, you may just hire extra people to get it done parallel to other projects, because
everything is urgent!
3. The pitfalls
This could lead to a lack in long term planning, allowing teams and projects enough time to truly return results or building a solid foundation.
Another danger is over-hiring, throwing more human beings at a problem with the hope that enough cooks in a kitchen should be able to produce a meal (makes you think about too many cooks just f**king shit up :P)
One of the most balanced approaches of hiring I have heard of (from a listed Canadian tech company that helps people build stores) is identifying a crucial gap area, ascertaining either that the team handling it is about to break or that a new hire could create an X% positive impact, and then, only then moving ahead with a hire.
4. Scaling is hard
What gets you from 1 to 10 is very different from what takes you from 10 to 100
This is a crucial lesson all entrepreneurs and founding team members inevitably face. The same guerilla tactics, hustle and general shenanigans that got you to that first marker where you got funded by XYZ awesome VC (if that’s the way you choose) are not going to take you to the next level.
People burn out. In the course of 4 years growing a company across South East Asia, India and later Europe and the Middle East, my usual state was GET ME A COFFEE!
Example . There were days when I woke up in Tirupur / Dhaka / Jakarta / Copenhagen (and many more cities) and I had absolutely no clue where I was. My mind on autopilot guided me down from my hotel room (the cheapest we could find in those days) to the coffee shop, load up on caffeine while the brain fog lifts, then reconfirm my day’s schedule. Set out, usually at 8am, back to the hotel post 8pm, shovel in some food, reply to mails, my team, build investor reports and then pass out. The next day rinse and repeat.
The thing most early stage team members forget is that this is a mission for them but can be a job for the next set of team members.
As teams scale and companies grow, it is inevitable that people join looking for a more balanced (also known as sensible) work/life balance. One of the hardest habits to kick as a manager was to realize this and not get angry or upset when a team member couldn’t work all night or over the weekend.
This was a mission for me but a job for them and that’s perfectly alright!
5. Not recognizing the Company
As a Company grows and *hopefully* matures, processes replace ad-hoc maneuvers, reporting becomes more important and onerous and new people are everywhere.
After a while, you look around confused wondering “was this the place I joined?” This is a natural extension of growth and requires a tremendous amount of personal thought, introspection, hell even meditation to deal with.
From needing generalists, a growing company tends to hire more and more specialists handling key areas of business. To continue finding meaning in your work, it’s important to have honest communication with your manager and other leaders to find the best place for you.
This may involve upskilling (learning absolutely new skills), finding internal and external mentorship and even taking a step down in hierarchy to work under a more experienced manager.
The biggest battle here is fought between six inches, your head. Ego is the most dangerous enemy here and can sink companies faster than almost anything else I can think of.
6. Balance, what’s that?
Eventually you realize you need to find an equilibrium or you are going to dive straight of the deep end. Work is work and life is life. Equating the two is a dangerous game and one I have been burnt by before.
Find things you love doing outside of work. I put on 20 kilos in my 4 years in a startup and only recently I have been getting back to the activities I love outside office, cycling on a breezy day, lifting heavy weights and playing badminton.
Journal. It’s an incredible experience putting the things in your head down on paper, like letting go of a heavy heavy bag tied to your back. Put things down on paper, reflect and learn.
Overall, everyone finds their own equilibrium and it’s different for each one of us (yes we are all unique snowflakes, just like everyone else).
If I can leave you with one last thought, a startup will give you lifelong memories and experiences to treasure. Go for it!