Think Of A Startup As A Metaphor For Life
A startup is nothing if not a roller coaster, with highs and lows, running fast and slow, and everything in between. Does this not sound similar to life in general?
Perhaps if we think of running a startup as similar to running our lives, we can better deal with the phases and inevitable ups and downs that are inherent in being an entrepreneur.
So let’s have a little fun and get a little philosophical as we head into the weekend – let’s look at the phases of our lives and our startups.
Birth and Infancy
Our startup is born, just as we were. At birth, we know next to nothing and we are entirely dependent on others for our continued existence. Not all startup entrepreneurs know next to nothing, of course, but I’d argue that regardless of prior experience, their success in a particular startup typically is largely dependent on those around them. This is one reason that successful, seasoned entrepreneurs with strong networks are highly valued and sought after by early stage investors. They understand that the serial entrepreneur essentially has the advantage of being born again, in the form of a new startup, but this time with all the knowledge they’ve gleaned from mistakes made in previous startups.
As the saying goes, you need to crawl before you walk. Per above, if as a serial entrepreneur, you’ve already “learned to walk” in a previous startup, then you have a distinct advantage. If you’re new to the startup game, though, you will likely have to learn to crawl first, like most everyone else. This process will include falling down, bumping your head occasionally, and learning through the tried and true method of trial and error. If you are unable to learn from your mistakes, or are impatient and try to skip the toddler stage, there’s a good chance you will be stopped in your tracks and will not be able to move on to the next phase in your startup.
Early And Middle Childhood
For humans, this phase would be from roughly three to eleven years old. For a startup, it would likely be from roughly two to five years old, depending on many factors, including the rate of change in the relevant industry. This is the time during which you start to gain a better understanding of what’s going on, and if you’re keen to learn and you have good teachers (a good “support infrastructure” in general), you tend to progress faster than those around you. If you don’t have a good support infrastructure and/or are unwilling or unable to learn from and course-adjust based on trial and error, you’re in for a difficult few years. Further, if you do not learn and make adjustments during this phase as a startup, your odds diminish greatly for making it to the next phase.
It’s in this stage, in life and in your business, that you’re now likely to make improvements and/or mistakes that could be life changing. If you’ve been paying attention during the earlier phases, it’s during adolescence that you think you have it all figured out. Now, magically somehow, you no longer need or accept advice from those around you, including those who’ve made most, if not all, of the mistakes you’re about to make unnecessarily. This is a very dangerous phase, both in life and in business, where you usually don’t know enough to make great decisions, but you definitely know enough and are overconfident enough to do some serious damage. The hope is that, both in business and in life, you can swallow your pride enough to take counsel from your “elders” and navigate your way through adolescence.
Maturity, And With Luck, Old Age
Assuming you’re able to navigate and survive adolescence, you’ll likely come out the other side with increasing maturity. You will now gradually become what you didn’t trust – an elder – in your life and in your “startup” (which is now far beyond startup phase). As a mature adult, you can now decide how you want to spend your most productive years. In business, you’ll usually want to “stick to your knitting” and continue whatever momentum you’ve created in your core business, only moving into new markets and opportunities after the careful analysis and consideration you can perform with the knowledge you’ve accumulated over time. This is quite similar to life, in that once you’ve gotten your life on a track you’re happy with, you want to be very careful not “screw it up” as a result of shiny object syndrome.
In business, as in life, assuming you survive the various phases discussed above, you’ll reach “old age,” where hopefully, you’ll spend some time sailing into the sunset and enjoying the success you’ve created.
The main takeaway from thinking of a startup as a metaphor for life is that in both business and life, you will go through phases.
It’s natural. It happens. It’s not something to lament. Enjoy the phases as you pass through them. Learn as much as you can in each phase, so you can make the phases that follow that much better.
Realize that with startups, as with life, most phases don’t go exactly as planned. Be willing and ready to adapt to whatever is thrown your way. In our dynamic world, the ability to adapt is fundamental to success in business and in life.