Maybe it’s whiner’s fatigue, but I’m getting tired of hearing about how hard it is to start a company and be a CEO. It’s not that hard.
Running a successful, growing company in Silicon Valley can create an ironic sort of depression and delusion. The better you’re doing, the higher the stakes, and higher expectations for you to win. Maybe that’s why people say it’s so hard. But that doesn’t make it hard. That just makes it distracting.
Ignore the parties. Ignore the constant stream of inane funding stories. Ignore the newly minted tech CEOs telling you how they’ve already made all their employees paper millionaires (a contra-indicator if ever I’ve heard one!).
At my company, we try to avoid these distractions. We just keep building. Regardless of the myopic focus on the “newest new” here in Silicon Valley, we still have to serve our customers, aim to reach an always-increasing list of prospects, and nurture our business. We’re not finished. But it’s not that hard.
I’ve recently started talking to investors again and one of them asked me this highly poignant question: “Is what you do hard?” I don’t know. Is anything hard? If anything, things are easier now. You have frameworks for frameworks for frameworks. SMTP was hard. TCP/IP was hard. SSL was hard. Today there are truly amazing development tools like Meteor and Parse. You have AWS! Most applications and services I use on the Internet are mediocre, at best. The bar to be simply interesting is low. The bar to succeed isn’t much higher. It’s not depressing, it’s an opportunity.
I had dinner with my buddy who runs a fast growing, disruptive enterprise software company the other night. His company is crossing the 500-employee mark and is on fire. We talked all night about how exciting everything is. How much opportunity there is. How fun it is to disrupt a market and scale a business. The horizon of what can be achieved just keeps growing. Hard doesn’t enter the equation. The question is how to move faster to achieve our goals and reach bigger markets more quickly. That’s not to say it’s all easy. But hard isn’t the focus. It’s not hard, it’s just hard work.
Managing people isn’t easy. Either @dickc or @bhorowitz recently said being a CEO “makes you want to throw up all the time.” There’s truth in that. They both probably said it. Wanting to throw up doesn’t make something hard, just gut-wrenching. Building a world-class organisation isn’t easy, but it’s not that hard.
I don’t mean firing people who don’t fit, or even hiring great people. Those things aren’t hard. Hiring just takes time and a strong process. Firing isn’t fun but it has to happen. So you just do it as delicately and respectfully as possible, try to learn a lesson and move on. Doing the right thing for the people who built your company and who you leaned on along the way can be hard when the near-term signals tell you to take the easy or cheap way out. But you don’t do it because the world is small or because what goes around comes around, you do it because it’s just the right thing to do. That makes it not very hard at all.
When people ask me, “are you happy?” I respond with, “you’ve asked the wrong question.” There is a deep kind of satisfaction you get from building a company. This kind of satisfaction transcends happy, sad, hard, or easy. I seek satisfaction. I want to be positively disruptive. I want to make a positive impact and have people’s lives be better because my service helped them feel safer, save time, or do something easier. The egoist in me wants people to know and respect what we’ve accomplished. If we do that right, we’ll succeed in building an enduring business people here can be proud of.
There’s only one thing that regularly keeps me up at night. Working with the greatest people in the world and knowing that they are counting on me to build a company that endures – a company where they can grow professionally. A company where they can build world-class products and be proud to work. A company that will take care of them in the same way that they’ve taken care of her. For the long-term. There are not a lot of companies in tech that endure but the ones that do aren’t random. That’s not hard, that’s exciting!
So that’s why I’m tired of everyone talking about how hard it is to start a company. It’s not easy, but hard isn’t the word. Time is your most valuable currency. If you’re spinning your wheels barely being ramen profitable, get some help. Find a mentor. Clarify your strategy. optimise your vision. If you can’t do those things or make the requisite changes then quit wasting your own time and everyone else’s. Aim for lobster and caviar profitable. Who aspires to eat ramen? It’s not even a good goal to aim for because a lot of people can’t see past it.
Maybe I just have the benefit of hindsight and these things were really hard. Or, as I’ve been told more than once, I have an uncanny ability to forget the horrible things that happened along the way. When people here remind me about those things, I smile. Sometimes the greatest satisfaction can only come out of suffering through the worst kinds of pain. Maybe being an entrepreneur isn’t hard, it just requires someone who appreciates and respects the pain that is required for ultimate success.
Our CTO is a “tell-it-like-it-is” kind of guy and he recently shared some advice with his team as they embarked on a big project: “You know how to make this happen? Just fucking do it.” That’s the best approach. You’ll be fine if you move quickly, listen to data, and iterate.
Looking back, you might not think it was so hard either. And that’s what makes the journey ahead seem that much more achievable.
Let me know what you think.
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