Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Seattle 2.0, and imported to GeekWire as part of our acquisition of Seattle 2.0 and its archival content. For more background, see this post.
By David Aronchick
You will get a ton of commentary when you announce to your friends and family that you will be launching your startup and most of it is totally worthless so feel free to ignore it. However, the ones who have done it before, and who know what it is really like, will pass on at least one key bit of wisdom similar to “it was nice knowing you, see you in three to seven years.” Much like the gaseous form of a substance, your beer gut, or the US populous in the 19th century, your startup will strictly follow Parkinson’s Law and “expand to fill any (and all) available space.” And, even when you try to step away to vacation, eat, or sleep, you will find that while you may be physically elsewhere, your mind and soul are still fully under the grasp of your creation. In fact, I would say the closest you can get to starting a company is having a baby.
I have some personal experience with this analogy. Since our founding four years ago, I have had the absolute pleasure of adding not one, not two, but three more people to my family. I had always wanted a family, but this was, in retrospect, probably not the OPTIMAL time to do it. While I am a huge fan of the unlimited possibility of people, to quote Chris Rock, “you can drive a car with your feet if you want to, that don’t make it a good idea!” In the midst of all the insanity and newness of it all, it is amazing to me how similar the two processes are. Here are just a few of the many parallels:
- Expect not just to teach, but to learn – When you look at your newborn blob for the first time, you would think that you are going to be molding and teaching your baby your entire life. One of the first things I discovered is how much it teaches you, about yourself, about your life and what is important to you. With your business, you will likely approach it thinking you have everything you need to know to execute your vision. But the most important thing you can do is make sure you are open to changing your expectations based on what your business teaches you. Is there something that you hate that needs getting done? Customers not listening? Team not gelling? Sales team running up a brick wall? Do not blindly power forward without make sure you are learning all you can.
- Your baby is far more resilient than you might imagine – When you pick up a baby for the first time, you cannot help but feel like she is going to fall apart in your hands, no matter how careful you are. But that is ridiculous – newborns have been raised in the most stressful of circumstances, and withstood situations you cannot possibly imagine. I am not saying go out and drop a baby from a second story balcony, but, similarly, if your toddler falls on its face, that is just the price of learning to walk. Your business will trip and fall lots of times, and you may feel you cannot leave it for a moment without everything falling apart. Have some faith, and do not panic – you will survive far more than you could possibly imagine.
- Freedom is not a lack of focus – Focus focus focus. You will hear this time and again – that is how Wayne Gretzky got his 10,000 hours, and how your business will succeed. But the real reason that these people and businesses succeed is not JUST because they focused on one thing, they focused on one thing THEY LOVED. And this is where freedom and lack of focus comes in. Choosing your specialty too early is a pernicious form of premature optimization. Let your toddler wander around, bump her head trying bike, or make a tremendous racket pounding the pots. They will survive (see above point about resiliency), and be far more likely to find something to which they naturally gravitate. Same deal with your business – give yourself the freedom to explore, in a fairly low investment way, the things that interest YOU and the people in your organization. It may take you longer than you want to get going, but you will be far more likely to find the aspects of your industry that you work on not just out of a sense of obligation, but because you actually WANT to.
- You forget the bad stuff! – I remember shortly before we had our first, I met with a friend of mine who was just into his second kid, and I asked him how it was going. He narrowed his eyes into a thousand mile stare and said “there has to be some kind of parental amnesia in order to go through this again – you forget all the bad stuff.” Truer words could not have been spoken! Bleary eyes, sleepless nights, futile crying – the start your life with your baby is not particularly easy. But quickly, you forget so much of what was hard, you develop a routine, and because the human memory is designed to diminish bad memories over time, you start to look back on all the insanity with a bit of fondness. When things are particularly hard for us, it gives me some pleasure thinking about myself in a year or more from now looking back on these hard times with some nostalgia. Do NOT get buried in how bad things are – in a couple of years, you will probably want to do it all again!
I would not go so far as to say your startup IS a baby (despite what the Supreme Court and a hundred plus years of case law says). But there are quite a few similarities – and far more than you would originally think. And, like parenthood, it is hard as hell to do right, but oh the joys you get out of it going through the process.