Don’t Do Whatever It Takes

Once in a while I meet an enthusiastic startup founder who says he “will do whatever it takes to make his company successful.” If I were a potential investor I would grill such a founder like this:

Me: Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make the company successful?
Founder: Yes, of course!
Me: How about cutting off your right hand?
Founder: *nervous laughter*
Me: Ok, let’s be reasonable. How many hours would you go without sleep in order to meet a deadline?
Founder: Well, maybe two or three nights… Let’s say 72.
Me: Good, I’ll hold you to that. What if your significant other gave you an ultimatum: it’s either me or the company?
Founder: Hmmm…

The point of this snarky post is that Silicon Valley is a place of hyperbole and bullshit. People build “insanely great” apps and hire “rock stars” every day. There are tons of post-facto stories of brave founders who did “whatever was necessary.” It may work as a marketing strategy, but you don’t have to believe it. Here’s an exercise for a prospective startup founder:

– Write down all the things you *think* you’d be willing to do to make your company successful, and those you *think* you’d never do. How much would you push your health? Would you fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy?

Give it a good hour. Make a list of things, write it down and file it away. It will come in handy some day. You may be surprised about the things you’re willing to do when the going gets tough and you’re operating in a “less rational” mode. To put it in a different perspective: as a startup founder, you are making a very risky and non-diversified investment. Act like an investor: make a rational plan and try to stick to it. Trust me, your future self is a bit of a stranger. Communicate with him/her now that you can :)

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