I’ve written about startups for a decade. I’ve interviewed founders, spoke at conferences, and flapped my gums about best ways forward and how silly/cool a product was. What I didn’t know, and what I know now, is that I wasn’t giving startup founders their due.
In short, I didn’t see two things: the fire in their bellies when it came to their idea and the fire in their bodies that was slowly burning them down. Just as the drive forward immolates you from the inside the same drive immolates our physical body. Dreaming up a business is often as easy as sitting down at a table and starting to think. Bringing a startup to life is akin to entering some sort of maniacal roller-coaster of your own devising. Finding an equilibrium is the hardest thing an entrepreneur can do and finding true calm comes only with practice.
I’m getting there, but it’s hard.
What you don’t see in Disrupt pitches are the behind the scenes decisions, arguments, bull sessions, and preparation. What you don’t see at your local pitch-off are the tut-tuts and “Are you sures?” that come from important people in an entrepreneuer’s life who played it safe. What you don’t feel when you read the latest multi-million dollar raise is the amount of self-immolation necessary to get to that plateau.
What you also don’t see is the defeat. You don’t see the pain. You don’t see the fear.
Incidentally, founders don’t like to talk about all that. They tell you to suck it up. It’s “bad optics.” Fuck optics. All that stuff is why people commit suicide while following their dream. That needs to change.
Thankfully there’s a flip side. You also don’t see the happiness when something — one thing — works. You don’t see the sun rising and falling through a picture window while a small team builds something amazing. You don’t see the little tribe that forms dedicated to an idea, a shape, a dream.
I’ve learned a lot from this process. I’ve learned that the happy smiling entrepreneurs we see in the media are faking it or, if they aren’t, they’ve entered a true place of no wind and don’t let the vagaries of their problems interfere with their perception of time. I’ve learned that funding rounds aren’t as easy as talking to some rich dude and, if you’re unlucky and/or unprepared, you won’t raise a dime 99% of the time. I’ve learned that the theatre of entreprenuership is vitally important but does not prepare you for the ring of fire that is true creation.
I’ve learned it takes guts.
So next time you read a chipper post about Slarblr raising $1.5 million from Jango Partners or the CEO Florpkorp hanging out on MSNBC, don’t get jealous. Get ready. Because someone was able to steal the spotlight for just a minute and that spotlight is as much yours as any other founder’s. When you’re ready you’ll get your due. Build, make, interact, learn, reach out. And come out the other end of stress, dissolution, and pain a better person, no matter what.