Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back on a decade of my life spent in startups, it’s high time that I reflect on it all, ruminate a bit, even pass a little judgment on those with whom I worked (and myself). The result? These five little nuggets of startup wisdom. If you are seriously considering starting a company or joining a startup, you have to know these:
- There is no “Plan B.” As people, we like to make backup plans. “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can always find another job.” No. When you are doing a startup, it’s not about being practical. It’s about being bold, about being reckless, about being passionate. You have to believe that there is nothing else but your startup and no alternate future in which your startup doesn’t exist. When you start planning contingencies, there’s a part of your brain that is waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. And that kind of latent negativity can eventually bring the business down.
- It’s not an opportunity. Startups aren’t a blip on the roadmap of your life. When you join a startup, it becomes your life. Its people become your extended family. As the ole Borg on Star Trek might say, “you become assimilated.” Now that doesn’t mean that you lose your personal identity. It just means that you put startup before yourself. More than any other employment, being in a startup is about sacrificing your personal gain for the glory of the group.
- Ask for forgiveness. Startups move too quickly to ask for permission. When you are running 180 miles an hour (in a world that’s only going 55), asking for permission, weighing the consequences, and then acting on them just takes too long. The opportunity might have already passed. Now I’m not proposing that you make half-cocked decisions. In fact, just the opposite. You should make very informed decisions using data and insight that, thanks to the wonderful world of technology, we can gather quickly and easily. But sometimes you just have to act on your gut instinct in order to capitalize on the way that market is moving and ask for a little forgiveness if things don’t go as planned.
- Respond to your mistakes. Hello? Newsflash—everyone makes mistakes, especially in a startup when people are running very quickly. That’s not important. What’s critical is how you respond to the mistakes… and the criticism that eventually follows. If you can’t just suck it up, brush it off, and keep moving, then startup life isn’t for you. There’s no time for sugar coating anything. When you make a mistake in a startup, it’s expected that you’ll clean up your own messes and take care not to repeat them in the future.
- Transparency is key. The corporate world is about bureaucracy. It’s about layers and layers of people, all knowing a little bit of the story but failing to grasp the bigger picture. In a startup, where most organizational structures are flat, that doesn’t work. Everyone needs visibility, but not just to what’s necessary to complete their job. Share the board slides. Tell everyone how every board meeting went. Hide nothing. Share everything. Because unlike the corporate world, in a startup everyone has skin in the game and they deserve to know when thing are going well…and when the chips are stacked against them.