Startup Founders, Don’t Sell Yourself Short
How do you get out when you are squeezed into a corner just because you care so much
I don’t know how many times, as a founder, I found myself in a situation where I thought “OK, maybe I need to make an effort to make this work; maybe it’s just me who wants things his own way and I’m just too demanding of everyone.” You can’t always have it your own way, right? If you’re a founder, you have a sense of what I’m talking about.
I had coffee with an amazing founder recently. She’s just gone through another fundraise and you could see it impacted her inside. Like so many things before. Like so many founders before. But she also grew, she learned and she as a person took herself onto another level doing it.
It’s just amazing how many founders go through the same experience trying to build a company. The same pain, doubt, stress, sleepless nights and shaking legs. It’s like running against the wind.
We met on a sunny summer day — out in one of Shoreditch coffee places. We chatted about what we’ve both been through. It pretty much comes down to the same kind of troubles, worries, dwelling, doubts.
When I exited my first company, I told myself I will never be a CEO gain. Being a CEO means dealing with HR, operations and admin and that’s just not what I want to waste my time on when I have so many creative ideas that need doing, building, focusing; when I found my passion in helping people through psychotherapy; when there’s so much more to life than that. I want to be doing things that I can grow with.
But when you found a company and start building it from scratch you are prepared to take the blow. You are willing to take sacrifices you wouldn’t have been otherwise. You are willing to put you company first — before yourself, before your mental health, your physical health and even before your loved ones. By the way, have you seen any of them lately?
And when you do that, people will take advantage. It is something that others will sense. If you feel desperate to build a company you will be ready to take on more, make more compromises and even go to the point of willing to be extorted for it.
HR is hard. At least it was for me. You can call me naïve, but I am the kind of a person that thinks people are truthful and speak facts, actual thoughts and convey their actual feelings. I got a few bumps on the head believing that in the past but it never hit me as hard as it did when my cofounder and I built my first business and started taking people on.
It hit me with so many people we took on. The level of dedication was never as high as I expected it to be and there always seemed to be a problem with catching that train in the morning or a problem with the red signal. I also never managed to get all of their late night emails they were working on every evening, nor did I understand those Fridays when they seemed to me as they had food poisoning.
Lessons learned, right? Not everyone has high work ethics. As a matter of fact, the majority of people you will get to come to an interview does not have them. So you need to make sure you see through it.
Not everyone has the love and dedication for your business. In fact, no one does, because it is not their business — it’s your business. So, don’t expect people to give all they can just because of what you are building is so important to you.
But that’s OK also. You just need to find what makes them tick and then apply it.
Be careful hiring people that are referred to you by your friends, acquaintances, board members or advisors. They are usually sent your way because they benefit the sender and not the recipient (i.e. you).
And finally, fire people as soon as you are in doubt and do not extend the agony.
Similar logic applies to your product. In fact, it applies to the team working on your product. If you’re a tech startup founder it is highly likely you are going to outsource the majority of your product before the business can find funding and build an in-house team.
Whatever you outsource — being your product, PR, social media or anything else — it is highly likely you will end up disappointed. Freelancers and agencies just do not have the same sense of the deal as you do. They do not see the project in the same way. Their dedication usually ends when you sing the contract.
For them what they put in is work and that’s what they charge. For you, it’s the end product you take them on for. Which means that frankly you don’t care about the amount work that goes into it as long as it is done. Well, they, on the other hand, do care. And, this is the fundamental reason why it’s bound to fail. Make sure you guard yourself from that before you take them on. Unless you are the type of a person who is ready to pay 80% of a car when you are offered 80% of a car.
Also, if you are setting up a business that is built around the exact product you outsourced, that means you will depend entirely on whoever you outsourced it to. As a founder you feel passion and dedication to your business. The level of passion that is out of this world sometimes. And no one wants it to succeed as much as you. You put everything into it.
But now you are in a situation when whoever you outsourced this to is in control. They call the shots, but have no stake in the business and frankly don’t care for it much. You’re just another client.
When you’re desperate and depend on other people’s work you will see people take advantage of that. They will see how bad you want this to happen and they will try and squeeze that last drop out of you. And usually founders fall for this. How would they not when in your eyes it’s either that or nothing?
So, you give in and get used.
I can’t tell you how many times this happened to me. You just don’t think there is another way out when you are faced with one option — seemingly one option. And they you get used.
But then one day I looked at the bigger picture. I thought to myself “Is this deal really what my entire business depends on? Is this person I depend on so much today in fact someone that has the power to shift between me making it or not?”
And then I saw all other options I had. I would never be willing to build a business that depends on one person, one agency, employee or one launch date. That’s not a business, let alone is it scalable.
You see what I’m getting to here, right? And this is not applicable just to your employees, agencies or people developing your product. It applies whenever you are dealing with people.
You will often feel desperate but there is a limit to what you should let other people do to you. There is a limit to how you should allow others to treat you. There should be a point when you refuse others to take advantage of you.
When you do that, you will see that the control of the situation switches from them to you.
To find out more about me and how you can work with me, visit aleszivkovic.com.