3. Finding the right idea
Starting a company is really hard. I don’t mean to discourage any of you from trying. I know some of you here may be reading this because you dream of starting a business some day, already have a business or just because you’re interested in learning. Luckily, knowledge of entrepreneurship can help you in any organization, not just as a founder starting a brand new company.
There shouldn’t be an external pressure that makes you start a company just for the hell of it. This is probably the worst reason to start! Even if you love entrepreneurship, starting your own company isn’t the only road to travel.
The idea for this post draws mainly from Lecture 1 of Stanford’s “How to Start a Startup.” This class is taught by Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, through a series of guest speakers (startup gurus). During this particular lecture, Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, talks about finding your reason for starting a startup. The reasons are listed below.
Glamour — In the press, startups can sound like fundraising fest. Money pours in, user count grows and then you sell to Google and take home millions and never have to work again. In reality, the startup world is a grind. Ask anyone working on a startup and they will tell you about how they work 80 hours a week before they talk about the glamour. (Note: they may talk about the glamour of how their startup looks after five years. Be wary of survivorship bias. Most don’t make it this far)
You’ll be the boss —This is a certainly a valid reason to be into startups, but you may be falling for the common misconception that a freelancer = an entrepreneur. I suggest listening to the first episode of Seth Godin’s “Startup School” for more on the distinction. (In short: entrepreneurs scale their operations beyond themselves while freelancers just do the work of one person.)
Flexibility — This reason is a good one, but often not as easy as it seems. Sure, no one will yell at you if you don’t come in to work on Monday, but when your website is down at 9:00pm on Saturday, you’re the one that has to fix it. You’re always on the hook in the early stages. If you want flexibility and freedom, you may be more interested in a lifestyle business.
Make more money, have more impact — Again, this is a great reason, but it isn’t the only way. If 90% of startups fail, there is probably a better way to have an impact and make a lot of money with a higher chance of success. Your upside in a startup is surely big, but your downside is unprotected and very steep. The person who created the “like” button at Facebook came on as employee 200-something. I’d say he made a mark on the world even though he was working for a pretty big company at that point.
If you’re anything like me, you will have read these reasons and thought,
“Those were all the reasons I wanted to be an entrepreneur. What could this guy say next that would be a better reason than those above?”
According to Moskovitz (and I agree) the best reason to start a startup is because “You can’t not do it.” The feeling has to come from inside. Your startup should be something that you can’t stop thinking about. It’s the thing that you think about in the shower. It’s the thing you work on before you start your homework, after work and on the weekends. It’s the idea that you get really excited about telling people because you think it can change the world.
When you think about it, this should be comforting (unless you’ve already started a company for a reason that feels wrong). You shouldn’t feel external pressure to start a venture. You should just look for impactful problems to solve and when you discover the right one, you won’t be able to resist addressing it.
Find something that the world needs and make sure the world needs you to do it. If there is someone better fit to solve this problem, let them do it, or help them in their quest. There’s something out there for which you are the perfect person. Find that thing and pursue it.