Despite what some media outlets report, startups aren’t glamorous. There are no ping pong tables, lazing around bean bags or sudden insights of brilliance that accelerate revenue overnight.
Nope. The reality for most startups, is this; months/years of slogging away with a stagnant user-base, living off savings, abandoning features that took months to build, working 6-7 days/week and having next to no social life. It’s no wonder some studies report that 90% of startups will fail.
Startups also put an emotional toll on founders and early stage employees. Founder depression is rife throughout the sector, highlighting the urgent need for additional support services (which subject is another blog post on its own).
Despite knowing this reality, surely you’d have to be mad to still be optimistic about startups? Well, perhaps.
Let me tell you why I fucking love start-ups.
BUT Before I get stuck into this – there has been a lot of misconception about what a startup actually is. So allow me to clear up the definition of a startup.
According to Neil Blumenthal:
“A startup is a business that aims to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success not guaranteed”.
This often involves changing a consumers behaviour. Startups give up certainty for the prospect of immense growth.
Repackaging t-shirts and becoming an Ebay power seller does not make your business a startup. Selling wholesale B2B products, while potentially a profitable business, does not make your business a startup. Starting a new consulting service is just that, a consulting business. An e-commerce business selling goods, (while many may associate this with ‘tech’) is not a startup.
But most importantly, a startup is NOT a new business.
While these businesses may position themselves differently, or have unique value propositions, at the end of the day – they are not solving a unique problem. If I want to buy a T-shirt, I can browse the 20,000 other shops that are selling them. If I want some digital marketing advice, I can approach a number of agencies and individual consultants.
Conversely, startups pushes boundaries, challenges assumptions and INVENT novel solutions. Think Uber and AirBnB (though hardly considered startups now) are perhaps the most recent well-known examples of potential startups possess.
I can have a car arrive at my doorstep within minutes, or live securely in a local’s house while travelling. These were incredibly novel solutions 10 years ago. Thanks to these businesses challenging our assumptions about transport and travel (no-one wants to travel in a stranger’s car, let alone their house!) – we now have far more efficient and cost-effective ways to travel.
So, back to why I love startups.
1. Startups make a dent in the universe
Part of the reason why I shunned corporateville is because I didn’t want to be a cog in a giant, lumbering machine. Hell with that!
In the short time I have on this planet, I want to make the biggest (most positive) impact I can.
Helping shareholders and dinosaur companies scrap together more profit at the expense of my time, isn’t exactly inspiring. Playing the corporate game, ultimately helps the rich get richer. With startups you elect to play on a completely different playing field – forgoing short term stability for long term prosperity.
Startups have the potential for a small amount of people to make a significant impact. Instagram only had 13 employees before it was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012, after only being in operation for 15 months.
Just imagine how proud theses employees must have been to contribute to the largest social media platform in the world, literally impacting over a billion people. Not to mention the financial freedom they now have.
If you can find me a corporate job with that type of ROI, I’m all ears.
It’s not about MONEY startups can make. It’s about the massive VALUE they can provide.
2. Startups Improve Critical-Thinking & Creativity
Rules, regulations, red-tape working 9 til 5, commuting for 2 hours a day.
Doesn’t exactly sound like an inspiring environment to foster innovative thinking does it?
Even though process and routine are necessary for success, being part of an environment or culture that doesn’t value experimentation, new ideas or change will dampen your entrepreneurial potential. When you get comfy at a 9 til 5 job, you operate on autopilot.
Startups are by nature, agile. This means there is no room for complacency. If you don’t respond quickly to the market, you literally won’t have food on the table next week.
You need to constantly be learning new skills, analysing data, running experiments, and monitoring market trends.
This type of pressure grows new neural synapses, pushes your mental ability to the extreme, and as a result you become more creative.
Creativity isn’t something that you’re born with, it’s learned.
3. Startups Improve Your Personal Brand
Which story would you find more interesting – a serial entrepreneur that recently sold his company for $19 billion? Or the CEO of a bank who climbed his way up the corporate ladder?
Startups provide the perfect platform to launch yourself into the public space. You’re not hiding behind a desk, you’re talking to real customers.
You’re fulfilling a need in the marketplace and creating value for the wider community.
Once this pays off, you don’t need to rely on a steady paycheck – you will have reputation and the ability to monetise off your name – think speaking gigs, books, podcasts, interviews. You name it. The world is your oyster.
No longer will you need to use a recruiter to find the right job, people will be head-hunting you left, right and center. You will able to stand on your own two feet.
4. Startups Give You Purpose
Self-actualisation is a fancy of way of saying – to work with meaning, purpose and live up to your potential. It is the highest rung, the pinnacle, of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
Ever wonder how someone can be paid well, live lavishly, surrounded by people who love him/her, yet still not be completely satisfied? Some will argue this is human-nature, but I believe this is because they are working without a higher meaning or purpose.
Startups give you the power to transcend empty corporate mission statements. When you are responsible for innovative solutions to solve real world problems, and see first-hand the impact your product is having – self-actualisation is no longer a theory, but a reality. You can sleep well, knowing you are doing your life’s best work. Learning copy-writing or coding carries a deep meaning and purpose behind it.
This is YOUR baby. You directly reap the rewards for the effort you put in. This is your chance to have a voice in a crowded marketplace.
Startup life definitely isn’t for everyone, but for those that take the plunge – successful or not – you will be in for one hell of a ride.