Recently my two cofounders and I celebrated the second birthday of our startup. When reflecting upon the past two years, I’ve realized one thing – people rarely talk or read about startups in the process of their journey, instead, we get a lot of news about newly-launched projects or unicorns that recently received a big round of funding. We all love exciting success stories, as they show that everything is possible, and even you can become the next Facebook-kind of company. However, those are not Facebooks and Ubers that need the most support and attention, but those startups that are on their way to developing and establishing a steadily growing company. Those are “going-ons”, and “scale-ups” not the “startups” and “unicorns”, that need attention and support the most. And here is why.
The hype of the first days
Our first startup days were exciting – everything felt new, we made huge progress within the first few months, and we genuinely functioned on the adrenalin and hype. Our friends and family were eager to support us, local magazines and blogs were reaching out to us to get their hands on the new and exciting concept, and the first posts we made on social media got a lot of comments and likes. People naturally gravitated towards us and offered to volunteer, help out with some projects and support us. When we tried to reach out to the same magazines after a year of functioning to ask to write about our scale-up, they all said “We’d love to. But we already posted about you before…so no.”
Waaait a second. You have to continue?
When we got over the stage of fundraising, the launch of the product and acquiring the first few customers, there came a point where it was just our team, an endless amount of work, and lots of sleepless nights filled with worries. All we could think before is launching the product, what came after seemed neither relevant nor real. But the real stuff began after that. We constantly had to deal with the mistakes associated with an MVP-state of the project and handle customers’ good and, most valuable, negative feedback. Our friends got a bit tired of the constant ranting about our startup affairs. And our friends and family losing a bit of attention was not the only thing that changed drastically when we went from pre-launch/launch stage to the continuation of the journey.
It feels lonely at times
Being in a startup meant that we were stuck within our environment working non-conventional hours, constantly thinking and talking about work at all the occasions. A line between personal and work lives got impolitely blurred. The first year was the time when we did not see our friends and family much, never went on vacation and spent all the time working or thinking about work. It’s great to have co-founders that are also your friends and are on the same page as you… but have you tried to hang out with your startup cofounders and spend at least two hours not talking about work? We didn’t manage yet
Success stories do not excite you at times
Those articles and books about entrepreneurship and successful companies that excited and inspired us so much at the beginning of the journey started having an opposite effect. The idealism of the first days got substituted with doubts and hard work after a year. As harsh as it sounds, we knew we will not be the next Uber, and reading yet another article about a unicorn company with abnormal growth started having a slightly-depressing effect. Even though it was great to learn from the experience of successful companies, there was no point in striving to become the next Facebook, as its experience most likely did not apply to our company and only distracted us from doing our own thing. Instead, we started talking to more startup founders facing the same challenges and going through the same stages of growth.
People that were so excited to help you at first started drifting away, as the hype of the launch stage gradually got substituted with monotonous work. And this is quite normal, yet it is easy to get frustrated at certain points of startup development.
It’s harder to get funding
If we look at the overall startup development processes, it’s easier to attract investments at an early stage startup. Eric Ries wrote in his book “Lean Startup” about chances of getting funding at the early stage versus trying to acquire it later on. When you’re a couple of years into the startup development the chances to get a round of funding are actually smaller than at a very early stage. A company that already generates revenues and has a steady growth is not as exciting and promising as a startup idea that yet did not turn into reality. As weird as it sounds, no revenue is better than some, as it leaves a lot of room for imagination. Statistically speaking, investors are more likely to get on board at an early stage, not at the scale-up point.
You lose people on the way
People leave, and lose interest. Those that were so excited to help you at first started drifting away, as the hype of the launch stage gradually got substituted with monotonous work. And this is quite normal, yet it is easy to get frustrated at certain points of startup development.
While you grow you start losing the personal touch you once had with your first customers. During the first days talking to each one of the customers was the main point of collecting the feedback and the main engine of growth. Now, new customers have higher expectations, as they consider you as a company offering services to them, not a friendly startup with co-founders you know personally. There is less room for mistakes, and expectations are higher. Yet, you cannot always offer a perfect product as the MVP stage is not fully passed.
What can we do?
It takes time to establish a stable and functioning company. The effort behind it might not be so visible from the outside, but believe me, the constant feeling of responsibility, lack of personal life and a journey filled with doubts are what every business owner goes through in-between the launch and automatization. Next time you repost a yet-another VICE article or Buzzfeed test results to your Facebook feed, think about your friend running a small company, or writing his own blog and repost some of his/her stuff. Or, when you choose to go to a well-established multinational, think of local businesses who are trying to create something different and better.
For VICE and Facebook, you would be another number in their weekly stats, for a small business owner you might make their day.
Offer to volunteer, or help if you have free time. If you are a designer, a UX specialist, a lawyer, a psychologist… your expertise and advice will help small businesses. Because startups need it all. Yet they have to do it all by themselves, as they do not have enough budget to hire specialists yet.
Share, repost, tell your friends, and tag it – you do it for big companies, why not for a small startup whose vision you can truly identify with?
Let’s give some credit to those who continue, and not give all the spotlight to those who “made it” already.