A startup is not a business. It exists for a different reason.
A business exists to serve the long-term blended needs and desires of the founding team, the community for which it creates solutions, experiences and delights and, increasingly, the larger community and ecosystem in which it exists.
A startup, on the other hand, exists for one sole purpose – to prove or disprove the viability of an idea for a business and, if possible, do what’s necessary to evolve invalidated ideas into viable ones then build them into sustainable entities.
At this point, you’re likely scratching your head, saying “um, isn’t the latter just the first stage of the former?”
The two stages are so different in terms of energy, purpose, talent, skills and vision that it’s not unusual for the team that’s drawn to the startup phase to be both disinterested in and under-qualified to be the same team that steers the ship through the next stage.
Not always. There are certainly exceptions. Individuals and teams who work diligently to evolve skill sets and develop equal passion for scaling, building out systems, processes, teams, org-charts and more. Behance founder and CEO, Scott Belsky, and his team are a great example. He is deeply committed to not only building his business but developing his team with the skills and mindset needed to thrive at every stage of his company’s journey.
But, I often wonder if, more often than not, the continued dominance of a founding team is more about ego blended with an inability to let go of the reigns and acknowledge what truly fuels them, rather than a genuine interest in and developed ability to move a venture through it’s next stage of life.
It’s critically important to get honest with yourself about what you’re looking for as an entrepreneur. Do you light up from the all-in, life-consuming rush of launching something from nothing, building the model, product, team and culture from the concept up? Do you get bored as soon as what you’ve built gets big enough to be stable? Are you at a point in your life where you’re willing and able to give up nearly everything in the name of a dream?
If so, you’re likely a startup junkie. Not saying that’s a good or bad thing (lots more on this in a future post). It’s simply an acknowledgment of what’s going to fuel and engage you at this point in your career and life. The rush of bringing something rapidly into existence, solving complex problems under insane time constraints, limited by “runway” or a rapidly exhausting bank account often filled with other peoples’ money. More commitment to getting from zero to handoff, exit or some other mid business-cycle metric than long-term development or connection to serving a specific community. All in the name of doing it again. And again. And again. Whether the company is there 10, 15 or 20 years from now isn’t so much your concern or motivation.
If you’re more about building out processes, massaging, evolving and tweaking. Systematizing, reinforcing and more discrete experimentation. If you have a deeply held long-term vision and focus and a sustained interest in investing in people and culture over time. If you want a real life that wraps around or even integrates into the way you earn your living. If you’re strongly connected to a specific community and want to build a company and career around serving that community on a level you can see committing to for the indefinite future. You still need to get through the startup phase, but for you, that’s more of a necessary evil on the road to being able to run a business, one you can’t imagine ever wanting to exit.
Why does all of this matter?
Because, a lot of people are walking around now claiming to have the Jones to be an entrepreneur, but having no clue what an entrepreneur really is or does. How brutal the different aspects and phases of startup and entrepreneurial life can be (this doesn’t have to be the case, btw, more on that in a future post, too), especially if you bring the wrong set of expectations and skills to the quest. And having little real understanding of the phases of entrepreneurship and which one they’re both more organically drawn to and equipped to excel at.
Startup entrepreneurs are often in it for the rush. The game and the challenge of bringing something as rapidly from concept to entity and then to exit. Then, it’s time to start anew. Sustained-vision entrepreneurs are in it for the long haul, looking to make the startup phase go as quickly, yet gently as possible in the name of building something sustainable that they see themselves being connected to for as long as possible.
And startups, as entities, are often more born out of a particular solution (though that often must change), while sustainable-vision businesses are more often born of a more mission-centric quest to serve a specific community with less connection to any specific product or solution.
As you think about your entrepreneurial future, especially if you’re in the early stages or about to dive in, take the time to reflect on what part of the process lights you up. What empties you out. And what you’re best equipped to handle or motivated to become equipped to handle. Owning this before you commit can save a lot of heartache and accelerate the success of both your personal journey and the venture you’re looking to join or build.
I’ll be writing a lot more about different elements of startups, sustained-vision business building, culture-creation and lifecycle and even, gulp, lifestyle-entrepreneurship over the next few months.
So, what about you?
If you are now or dream of becoming an entrepreneur, what approach fuels you most and why?
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