So You Want Join The Startup Scene…


As the spotlight keeps shining on startups, with even Hollywood making movies about Facebook and Google, more and more people wonder whether they should take the jump and start a tech business.

But before you leave your day job to start a tech business, here is a quick but real testimony on the best and the worst parts of having left a successful career in corporate to launch startups.

The Highs

5.  Impact:

Not only do you see the tangible impact of everything you do for the simple fact that you are starting something from nothing, but in technology you also have the possibility to impact people’s lives at scale.  I failed to change the way people redecorate their homes in the UK and how they hire nannies in Brazil, but to know now that every month 3M people across the world discover new mobile apps thanks to our startup makes me beam with pride!

4.  It’s A Roller-Coaster:

One thing you won’t get is bored.  Each day is unique and you hardly ever fall into a routine.  Surprises pop up every day, and for every challenge you overcome you feel that victory keenly, no matter how small.  Some are sprints against your competitors, and some are marathons where you beat your own limitations, but they all make you feel you have achieved something – must be better than cocaine.

3.  Breadth:

You know how you have a clear role and responsibilities in your corporate job?  Try the opposite of that.  When you start a business you need to be the executive, the cleaner, the intern, the CFO, the developer, the marketing manager, the sales rep…  Finding complementary partners helps you focus on some aspects more than others, but you still get to learn a bit about everything.  Although you might not enjoy every role you must take, it is absolutely fascinating to get to experience all these different jobs and find out which you’re most suited for or enjoy doing the most.  All at once!!

2.  Failure:

The older you get the more you appreciate the humbling moments of your life, the ones that truly help shape who you are.  Failure is the most common denominator amongst startup founders – you will not find a single one who didn’t fail at some point, and the most famous ones come from a long line of failures.  You don’t only grow personally through these, you also get a lot better at what you do, and you learn to really appreciate your wins and respect others’ success.

1.  Freedom:

… freedom to choose where to focus, to be allowed to make your own mistakes and to choose the people you work with
The winner will always be the freedom for me.  It’s not just about the 9-to-5 freedom (although that is a big one for me seeing as I like to do many types of sports during the daylight), it’s also the freedom to choose where to focus, to be allowed to make your own mistakes and to choose the people you work with every day.  That freedom that is driven by passion is also what fuels it – I am passionate about technology and building things from scratch, which is why I got into this startup world, but what now fuels my passion and makes my career so fulfilling are the people I get to work with every day, everything I learn from the mistakes I make along the way, and the lifestyle I chose for myself (with travel and sports deeply entrenched in it).  It’s cheesy but it’s true – you do what you love, and you love what you do.

The Lows

5.  Responsibility:

We often think responsibility is a major plus at work, as we are always looking to gain more of it in a corporate environment – every step up the ladder is a step towards more responsibility.  But once you experience full responsibility over not just your business but the life of the people you employ, the ones who invest money in you, and the people who use your product or service, you see the dark side of responsibility.  It can eat you up with anxiety until you learn to manage it – there is nobody else to blame if things go wrong, and there are a lot of people who can suffer if you screw up.

4.  It’s A Roller-Coaster With A Blindfold:

… you’re pretty much in
the dark at 200mph not knowing which way is up
Although the ups are great, the downs can get very low, and there is no way to foresee any of it so you’re pretty much in the dark at 200mph not knowing which way is up.  It’s thrilling at parts but overall it can eat up your sleep and your health.  If you’re somewhat of a control freak or you struggle to deal with the unexpected or the unknown, I’d highly advise you not to start a business.

3.  24/7 Job:

One thing that makes the startup community overall very exciting is that most people, from the intern to the executives, are very engaged in the business.  People will work on a weekend or an evening when they have to, and they will most often be happy to do things outside their scope if it helps the business grow and the team be successful.

As a startup founder you pretty much eat, breathe and live your startup and it can be life consuming if you don’t learn to balance your drive.  I’ve cancelled trips and failed to show up for friends and family a few times, and the danger in our current western society is that nobody is going to call you on it – everyone thinks it’s ok to sacrifice your social life for work.  My ex used to say he was in a relationship with the back of my phone, and as much as I hate to admit it, he was right.  And although I felt anxious trying to split my time between him and work (and everything else) I just kept telling myself: “it’s just this year while we grow the business”.

Truth is it’s never just one year, it’s forever, so you eventually need to learn to prioritize.  If you’re considering starting a tech company so you have more work-life balance, be aware that the OPPOSITE will happen.  You won’t “work from home”, your home will become your office, so you will basically live in it 24/7.

2.  You’re A Work Orphan:

Remember that feeling when you did well at work and your boss told you “good job!”?  Well, forget that.  You’re on your own, nobody to ask “how do I do this?”, nobody to lead you, nobody to pat you on the back.  Your investors will show you what you’re doing wrong, your staff will ask you what they should do and expect you to know all the answers, and although you’ll get to high five your business partners on your wins and theirs, nobody is going to pat you on the back, because everyone is giving their blood for the business and expect nothing less of you.

… your partners will be the best or the worst aspect of your startup life, pick wisely
It’s a bit like having your own kids and going from child to parent – your partner may cheer you on when you get things right, but it’ll never be quite like daddy telling you “well done kiddo!”.  Your friends and family won’t be as ingrained in your business and won’t really be able to tell what your achievements actually are – you’ll often get congratulated for things you don’t actually consider achievements yourself (people will look up to you for starting a business but you will know you’re not doing that well and you will feel like an impostor most of the time).  Be ready to get criticized right, left and center, and make sure you partner with people you admire and whose recognition you value – your partners will be the best or the worst aspect of your startup life, pick wisely.

1.  Money, Money, Money:

If you like to plan ahead and you are attached to things money can buy, forget becoming a startup founder.  0.01% of tech startup founders end up rich, the rest are lucky if they manage to get by.  Don’t get me wrong, the wealth we all gain from simply living the life we want is enough to make up for all of the money anxiety, but it’s a very important aspect that often gets underestimated.  Had I known how many years I would be living off restaurant vouchers for chain restaurants I might not have left my GBP100K annual salary… Which would have been a mistake, so I am glad I didn’t know what the future had in store, but it’s important to understand money itself can never be the goal.  You’ll most likely not make much of it, at least for a while.

If you are passionate about your idea or building your own business, then you will be willing to go back to your university days counting pennies and not being able to afford the good bars and best hotels anymore, but be prepared as this will be your biggest test in the whole process.  If you take the jump, you will undoubtedly go through financial struggles at one point or another, so make sure you’re not attached to material things – focus on doing what you WANT to do, not something you think can make you money (I’ve made that mistake 3 times till eventually I learned from it).

Ultimately, founding a startup isn’t for everyone – the press has been painting founders as somewhat superior and their path to success as a straight line full of fun stuff.  But that’s all BS that helps sell papers (or get online clicks).  Although some of us are happier living the life we want versus people stuck in a job they don’t like, we go through many lows and many of us get depressed at times.  The path is anything BUT straight, and for every fun day we have there are 5 sleepless nights of terror and anxiety.

So before you make the jump, make sure you are not romanticizing the concept of being a tech entrepreneur.  And if you still want to do it, remember one thing: your idea is crap, whatever your idea is.  But if your execution is good, you might just change the world anyway.