It's very smart to go into the startup world eyes wide open. You can set proper expectations and prepare yourself for what's to come. I read a lot in the space and have a few favorite books. I've read all of these while I've been running Sloane and think they really capture what startup life is REALLY like.
Shoe Dog - Phil Knight
This book is about the beginnings of Nike. The journey the founder took from a track runner at University of Oregon to the founder of one of the most iconic brands ever is incredible. He was running the brand as a side gig while he worked as an accountant to pay the bills....for YEARS. He said he didn't make any real money from Nike until they went public. The struggle for him and his team was constant and they came close to dying many times.
Lost and Founder - Rand Fishkin
This book gives you a look into a "successful" startup that grew to a very solid level. They beat the odds. The founder hasn't been able to reap the rewards of the success because they haven't exited or went public. His wealth is tied up in the company, so he hasn't attained any material wealth despite years of struggle as he's grown the company.
Disrupted - Daniel Lyons
I just read this one over the weekend. The book was about two main things. One was how a 50 year old former journalist at Newsweek restarted his career at a young startup, Hubspot, surrounded by employees half his age. The second was a very raw view at what fast growing (unprofitable) companies have to do make it. Low pay for workers. Long hours. Cut throat mentality. Creation of a culture where these three things are somewhat disguised as FUN. Hubspot went public in the book and it coincided with disaster for some of their top employees.
All of these books are super entertaining. I like reading about companies who are in it. Not the theorizing what the startup world is like. These books show the ups and downs of the life if an entrepreneur. All three companies end up doing very well, but the sacrifices the founders and employees had to make was a lot.
I run Sloane on a much smaller scale, but the challenges are similar. You need to really want to beat the odds starting your own business. These books give you a glimpse of what you have in front of you.
The idea of entrepreneurship has gotten blown up in media so much. The entrepreneur is a God. They control their destiny. They lead. They conquer. They get rich.
An entrepreneur is inspired to bring some change to the world. It could be as mundane as an undershirt or fun toy. That is what entrepreneurs want to do at their core. Once things really get going though they often lose that in their work.
Growth at all costs becomes the goal. The investors need growth. Hence, you need growth. Does massive growth really bring you the joy you were searching for then you started though?
I thought this article in the New York Times brought out the truth in entrepreneurship. The people who experienced that growth at all costs often times lost it all and went back to their roots to find their passion again.
It's refreshing to read about people getting energy from just doing their craft. Sharing their creativity with others. Being ok selling smaller amounts to a more niche group of consumers versus NEEDING to be the next Bonobos (which actually didn't end amazingly for its founders!).
This article is something important for up and coming entrepreneurs to read. Get clear on why you are doing it. If you can stay true to that, then you will experience much more joy and fulfillment along the journey. You'll cherish the wins that many people just look right over as they have their eyes on GROWTH. And growth for growth's sake really isn't that rewarding.
You love your startup. Your startup is your life. It's your baby and an expression of you to the world. You think that everyone is SO interested. How cool that he started a business? How cool that the company has sales? How cool that I saw an ad for the business?
I find that people are interested initially. When you decide and get going. People are excited. They love the courage. They really want the best for you. Then life happens. People get busy. Months go by. Months turn into years. At that point people honestly might even forget you have your own business. They stop asking about it. They stop really caring if its successful for not.
This might sound harsh and mean, but I think it's a GOOD thing. PEOPLE DO NOT CARE! They just don't. So you shouldn't care what they think!
I have friends who started their own businesses. I might check in with a text once a year or talk about it during a rare get together. I'm not thinking much about it. I want the best for them. This is how most people are. Life is busy. Most people (including me) have a hard enough time managing their own life let alone care about what other people are doing.
Plus, if someone has so little to do that they are hating on your company then that person is a tool. Not worth even spending a moment thinking about.
Most people are so busy that they are not thinking about your or your business much. That is freedom. You can try and fail. No one will really notice. You can try and succeed.....no one will really notice either.
I remember I got on a national TV show called West Texas Investors Club. I was so nervous I would screw up and embarrass myself in front of everyone I knew. I pretty much had a panic attack the night before.
What happened? The show was cool. And no one really cared. Barely got any texts. Not much happened on social media. A few people at work commented. This was a NATIONAL TV show. I was honestly shocked that no one cared, but it also felt amazing. Life went right along.
Do what you want to do. No one cares. And that's actually awesome. FREEDOM!
The vision people have of a startup founder is at their vacation house looking out on their big boat just smiling at how awesome his/her life is. They don't have a care in the world. They built their business, didn't have a boss, made their own calls and became rich. That's pretty awesome!
I don't know the numbers, but that might be 1 out of every 1000 entrepreneurs get to that level. Most business just flat out fail. I believe 90%+ don't amount to much at all. The founders lost most everything. They might have also lost their investors money, as well. That story isn't what is told in media.
Jeff Bezos is the type of person who is immortalized. He left his corporate job. Started Amazon small as a bookseller. Made the right calls. He's now with many many many many billions. He said he actually gave his chance for success at 20%! Even he knew that startup live is a massive gamble. He was ready to lose it all though....or at least lose the money his parents gave him to start the company.
If becoming rich is something you are envisioning when you start your company, then you might want to hit reset. Becoming rich MIGHT happen, but your focus needs to be on solving a consumer problem with a great product. Tight focus on that in combination with intense effort MIGHT result in your getting money and becoming rich.
For Sloane I really thought we'd be financially success very soon. Make some undershirts. Sell them. People talk. LOTS more people buy undershirts. Mike becomes rich. Sounds pretty doable.
About a year or so in I realized how hard startup life is and how difficult it is to become rich off of it. Here were some challenges.
- Where does the money come from to invest in inventory to even sell?
- Where does the money come from to develop a website?
- Where does the money come from for a photo shoot to even put images up on the website?
- Where does the money come from to make people aware you even exist? Facebook ads? PR? Influencers?
That's a nice little list of expenses that need to be paid BEFORE you even sell your product. When those started to add up I knew that I was in for an enlightening journey in entrepreneurship. Becoming rich was a looooong way off and I needed to take the first step on the journey.
From that point on I have never thought about becoming rich from Sloane. It was about learning and enjoying the journey. Make the best product possible. Please as many consumers as possible. Learn from mistakes. Don't get too down.
With that attitude I've been able to really enjoy the entrepreneurial life. It's been a total adventure. I'll share more of the ups and downs in this blog. To me the experience has been worth it (or at least that's what I tell myself in the hard times! ha).