Startups: Why we do it

We just binge-watched Band of Brothers on Amazon Prime. The ninth episode, in my opinion, is the high point of the series.  Lt. Nix is overwhelmed with grief from all directions, turning to alcohol – Vat 69 – to medicate.  Easy Company is very painfully reminded why they were fighting the Nazis when they accidentally discover a concentration camp.  Lt. Nix’s attitude is adjusted accordingly, and despite his current woes, he gets it and all the pieces fall into place.

Sometimes in the throws of tech startup life, it’s very easy to catch yourself asking, “why? why are we doing this? Why are we sacrificing so much economically, emotionally, relationally, etc.?”  And it’s ok to ask that, just like it’s ok as a tech startup leader to constantly question just about everything you’re doing until you really hit your stride.  Remember, a “startup” is not a business (yet), but a learning & experimenting machine in search of a repeatable, scalable business model.

So why do we do it?  Here are 5 reasons.

  • The thrill. David Cummings mentioned in a recent post that “the thrill of a fast-growing company is truly special.” I couldn’t agree more. In the 7 startups I’ve been a part of, the “hair on fire” times were the most fun, by far.
  • The impact on those around us. Some of the most special memories I have are the light-bulb and Ah ha! moments that occur when you’ve hired someone for their first ride in a startup, and at some point they move on to start their own business.  They catch the startup bug, and they caught it from you.
  • The impact on an industry. At CWNP, we created something that simply wasn’t there before, and in the process helped solidify and standardize an industry through the work and knowledge of its SEs and engineers.  We started before “Wi-Fi” was even a word. You can’t take that away.
  • Success.  Despite the fact that success really is fleeting and that the thrill really is the chase, that very short moment when you achieve some level – any level – of success is truly unforgettable. I still remember the first launches, the completed implementations, the IPO, the acquisitions…every moment, like it was this morning.  These are the things – big and little – that you look back on when you’re in the trough of despair, and remember why you’re doing it.
  • The opposite of a startup. I spent a little over a year working in the bowels of a Fortune 100 company from 2000-2001. I hated every minute of it, and the thought of ever having to do anything like that again almost makes me physically ill.  Whether we think about it or not, admit it or not, “working for the man” is a big reason why we do startups.

OK, so those are my reasons. What are yours?  When you’re struggling, and you will struggle at some point in the life cycle of a startup, remember why you’re doing it.

What do you think?