No one is wearing a shirt and even jeans are hard to find. It’s all like one big reality show everyone wants to be a part of. And it looks so cool. Maybe that is why. And maybe the fact that it is just virtually real is the reason that makes this a reality show. Everyone wants to have a piece in it and piece of it.
Startup gatherings are more like celebrity red carpet events than they are proper business evaluations. Smiling faces as they tell the stories of how they got from nowhere to pitching a multi-million fundraise. And how happy they were doing it also. People are making businesses out of their life-long passions and hobbies and getting their best friends on board. It’s all going up and up and everyone is smiling while it does.
But is what we watch and read about founders and their startups in fact a real thing?
This startup frenzy and founder look-alike pageant is romanticising the perception of running a serious business and undervaluing it in so many ways. If today you look at the startup scene from a distance you will undoubtedly think this is the coolest game in town. Bright. Colourful. Slick. Clean. Chilled. It just looks so good and painless. Sipping coffee in Starbucks as you do your day’s work wearing shades. Intuitive. Easy. Light.
Look mum, no hands.
In reality this kind of labelling is the exact reason that is hurting the startup founders themselves. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘startup’? I bet that the first intuitive thought is far from factual startup world and is a mere idealised illusion.
‘Startup’ is a misused word that is often used to portray a romanticised, distorted and heroic ideation of life and lifestyle that doesn’t really exist — not for the vast majority of founders anyway.
I am a founder and my friends are founders. None of us live our lives like that. I never had to answer meaningless questions on stage trying to appear smart for someone I am hoping to throw money at me.
I never went to a startup mega-event putting myself in the spotlight in the effort of pitching for VC. I did pitch and I did raise regardless of that. And I still do. But I never felt the need to romanticise the process and make it into something it is not.
And one thing it is definitely not is easy. If you catch yourself thinking it is easy, you will probably end up with a deal that you will regret down the line. There is a high chance it will leave you empty-handed.
I never thought appearing or winning Sharktank or Apprentice were at all an appropriate rating for what a business should be built on and built of. I always felt that’s up to the market to decide.
As an entrepreneur you eventually only need to listen to two kinds of people — the ones that are either buying your product or the ones that are buying your business. Everything else is a distraction from your path.
So, none of the startup ideation was ever part of my world — nor the world of the founders I met along the way. I met a lot of them though. Some of them raised enormous amounts of money also. But people still have no clue who they are.
My world is full of stories of sacrifice. And when I say sacrifice, I mean sacrificing life savings that were meant to put kids through school or for buying a home and investing it all for the pursuit of a dream in business.
In my world I see cold sweat and sleepless nights of founders that are trying to build their companies. They are sacrificing time that should instead be spent with their partners, kids, loved ones.
Founders are waking up at night finding themselves lying on pillows soaked with tears and sweat.
They are sacrificing physical and mental health in pursuit of a dream. They are ending up with their families no longer knowing they are really around. Life passes by without them. Realising that friends are no longer friends. These women and men are putting everything they have into their businesses and are constantly on that thin and sharp edge of either giving up or just taking it to the end.
This is more like the startup world I see and I can definitely say it is very real. And it becomes no less real and painful when millions are successfully raised.
So, what are you really trying to achieve? What are you willing to sacrifice?
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