I made one of the most difficult decisions of my career last September when I decided to leave the company I helped start, Roniin (now Builders VC). It was made especially difficult by the amazing people I was working with, the great companies we started, and the momentum in our sails. It certainly wasn’t easy, and I continue to admire and respect my colleagues and the great work they are doing there. But in the end, I knew it was best for me to pave my own path. I needed to create a vision for making the world a better place and manifest it into something real and tangible. And as I embark further into this journey (in case you are wondering, I’m launching something that helps companies engage & inspire their employees through experiences that change the world. It’s still fairly stealth, but if you are interested in learning more, shoot me a note), I decided to take a moment and reflect on all the reasons not to start something new. At a time when technological advances make it easier than ever start a business, and when the cost to launch one is so comparatively low, it seems more attractive than ever to start a company. Yet unless you’re certain of certain things, you shouldn’t.
You shouldn't unless you care deeply about solving this one particular problem. When you start with a problem that you can’t imagine not solving, you’ll do anything to make sure it’s successful. That might mean failing a thousand times until you get it right. When push comes to shove, and when everything seems to be falling apart, you persevere because you know how important it is to solve this problem. Of course, the product may change, and the mechanism for solving this issue will evolve, but you never stray from your purpose. It has to start with a deep appreciation for solving this problem and doing everything you can to overcome the challenges. Deep down, you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. So unless you know the problem you want to solve and a burning desire to keep going until you’re successful, don’t start a business.
You shouldn’t unless you are ready to go through some of the most difficult times of your life. It’s not sexy, it’s not always fun, you may see your family or friends less, and you’ll definitely lose some sleep. Launching and growing a startup will be extremely trying. It takes discipline, grit, and commitment. If you aren't ready for that, you have no business starting a business. Don’t get me wrong -- being involved in a startup can be extremely rewarding. It can open doors you never thought existed. But that’s not the default setting, it doesn’t automatically happen. You have to approach it from the right state of mind. A state of mind that understands things won’t always go right, and that most days will feel like a roller coaster. So unless you at least acknowledge this, and approach it with the right attitude with the willpower and perseverance to overcome any obstacle, don’t start a business.
You shouldn’t unless you are ready to work on something that will stand the test of time. This should be one of the biggest commitments of your life. It should be something that you think of day and night and care so passionately about that you can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve had too many conversations with people recently who want to start a business for the wrong reason. Don’t start a business with the motive to sell it in 2 years for a billion dollars. You are guaranteed to fail if that’s the thinking from the beginning. The objective of starting a business should be to create something that will stand the test of time -- something your kids will appreciate, and their kids will appreciate. If you are lucky, you’ll get to work on it the rest of your life, or at least a good portion of it. So unless you are ready to build something that will be around for the next 100 years, don’t.
You shouldn’t unless you have the confidence to do it better than everyone else. If you have an idea, there’s a good likelihood that someone else is already working on it. Very few companies are first to market. Facebook, Google, Spotify, Zappos weren’t first to market. They just out-executed. Being able to show market understanding, and demonstrating that you are uniquely situated to solve your problem, with a team that has a tremendous depth and commitment, is essential in building an amazing company. So unless you have this, or at least have the willpower to learn it & cultivate it, don’t start a business.
You shouldn’t unless you’d still want to be doing it even if there was no money in it. Because there won’t be.... at least early on. Unless you are extremely fortunate or have a great track record, you’ll be working for basically nothing. Even as the company grows (or raises money), there probably won’t be a ton of money in it until there is some sort of exit or profitable hockey stick growth. So don’t start a company because you want to get wealthy -- in most cases, you won’t for many years.
If, at the end of the day, you can say there is a problem you are passionate about solving, that you are uniquely situated to solve it, you want it to be around to stand the test of time, and you are willing to persevere through numerous hurdles and challenges for little to no money, then by all means, don’t hesitate. Start. In fact, you have no excuse. If you can say these things, then it’s time to stop talking about starting a company, and it’s time to do it. Your future self will thank you. I certainly hope mine will.