The problem with the Internet startup craze isn’t that too many people are starting companies; it’s that too many people aren’t sticking with it.
When I think of entrepreneurship, the first things that come to mind are extravagant launch parties, multi-million dollar rounds of funding at outrageous valuations, and ringing the bell at the NASDAQ on the morning of your IPO.
The glamorous milestone events are what make entrepreneurship and venture capital so appealing to so many people.
Most serious entrepreneurs are fully aware that lots of companies don’t make it that far, and that you have to be mentally and economically prepared to go belly up. Whether it’s 4 out of 5, 9 out of 10, or 99 out of 100, we’ve all heard some stat about how many startups fail. It’s no secret that it’s a risky business.
But there’s also a third possibility, one that gets far less attention than either immediate success or failure.
It’s that your company will grow slowly, and that success may take many years and a lot of hard work.
There’s no stat for this kind of trajectory, but it’s definitely much more common that the immediate success stories like Instagram. It may even be more common than companies that burn out after their first year.
It’s also a prospect that, to many, is more frightening than swift failure. If you’re attracted to the exciting, dynamic nature of the startup world, you likely aren’t incredibly interested in doing the same thing for 5+ years while making incremental progress. That’s what working for a big corporation is like, and escaping that culture is probably the reason you started your own company in the first place.
Still, it’s a possibility you absolutely have to be prepared for if you enter this world. For the vast majority of founders, much more of your time will be spent addressing the unexciting minutiae that characterizes employment at a small company than making strategic decisions, meeting with big shots, and grabbing headlines. Once the luster of being part of something new and exciting wears off, the reality sets in.
Entrepreneurship is a grind.
That’s particularly true if your company isn’t an immediate hit, but it’s also true even if it is. For instance, take Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who are revered in the startup community for their big, disruptive ideas.
Is that really who the majority of entrepreneurs aspire to be?
Between the career milestones we all remember are years and years of what was probably often a boring and frustrating grind of hiring and firing lieutenants, groveling to investors, and tweaking and re-tweaking the company’s operations. If that’s what arguably the two most iconic CEOs in the history of technology had to do to get there, don’t for a minute think your road will be any easier.
In order to survive in the role long enough to attain success, a founder has to have an exceptionally long-term outlook, simply love the details of running a business, or ideally, both. While the two CEOs in the previous paragraph certainly did have big ideas, it wasn’t their day job. The stamina and passion it took to improve their companies little by little, day by day, was just as instrumental in carrying them to the pinnacle of their respective fields as were the original concepts they may or may not have written in dry erase marker on their dorm room windows.
What the startup community needs is more Mark Zuckerbergs
And by that, I don’t mean the arrogant 20-year-old who thought he had the biggest idea since sliced bread. I mean the arrogant 28-year-old who stuck with his idea long enough to see it through.
Image Credit: AllOfThisBeforeEleven