I remember when the term “startup” used to be cool, mysterious, and somewhat sexy. And now, fast forward ten years, the term “startup” has definitely lost its pizazz. It ran its course and has ended up in the graveyard of fellow overused and abused terms in the “tech cool” vernacular, like advertainment and gamify. I entered into the world of startups well before the “lifestyle CEOs” infiltrated it. Lifestyle CEOs are startup founders who usually have no clue about tech or the industry they are entering, but they have some money to throw at an idea. Many of them are solely seeking the startup status. The mystique, power, and obscene amount of money to be earned in the tech industry is so appealing — eventually everyone was vying to create the next big thing. The problem was, and continues to be, many folks, including the lifestyle CEOs, do not know what the heck they are really doing.
My journey into the startup world…
It was challenging and difficult with so many unforeseen bumps along the way. In fact, it almost didn’t happen. But I persevered, until poof, I was suddenly a budding new founder of my very own startup. I too liked the idea of having the startup status. However, I was truly attracted to the idea of founding a startup for a very different reason. I was tech-old (over 30), divorced, and a single mom of two. The noble idea of a startup which I could build and run from my home sounded too good to be true. Because, unbeknownst to me, it was. I did not realize the time, money, dedication, and brain power I was about to put forth in order to build and launch my business. It was also a very risky venture — despite the scary statistic that approximately 9 out of 10 startups fail, I was all in.
Building a startup can be oh so fun. Not only do you get the coveted “founder” status, but it truly is fun to ideate and build a product for others to use and enjoy. My favorite part was the creative aspect; I absolutely loved the brainstorming sessions. Most of the time it was done over a few drinks, which typically led into “dranks,” because that’s when the most creative stuff happened. The other aspect I loved was watching the concept come to life. There is nothing cooler than seeing the designs and buttons that you created functioning for the first time. It was like having a newborn baby all over again. I was in awe of the capabilities. I also really enjoyed writing the copy. Composing the emails, notifications, and all the content on the pages took forever, but it was fun to do.
Hmm, where do I start? Not to scare any hopeful startup entrepreneurs off, buuuut this line of work is certainly not for everyone. I have owned three companies to date, and my startup was by far the most challenging. Let me begin by saying you will eventually marry your startup. It will consume you. You will talk about it, think about it, dream about it, stress about it, and obsess about it. The other bad part is that everything is really, really, (add three more “reallys”) expensive. Plan on adding extra zeros to your proposed budget, because the “little” fixes and changes totally add up. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching! The other bad part is the amount of time that every teenie-weenie, itty-bitty, little website change or improvement takes. Tech laypeople usually don’t understand this and want seemingly simple tasks done quickly. Nope, not going to happen. Not in tech. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when something breaks or malfunctions.
The other really challenging part of building a startup is finding a reliable, honest, and affordable developer. This is where my journey turned ugly. Very ugly. Thus, I highly recommend finding a technical partner, or CTO, before you begin to build your business. I went the other route, which many hopeful founders do, and hired a firm. The challenge with a firm is that they hire salespeople (imagine that!) to sell you on their alleged services. The first firm — yes, there were multiple — promised me the sun, moon, and the sky, right before asking me to transfer over the hefty deposit. I transferred the money only after I thought I completed a very thorough review of the contract and terms. Turns out there were plenty of things both my attorney and I missed. Grrrr, this cost me a lot in “tech-mistake-money.” The hard lessons were learned and I lost a lot of time and money as a result. However, I eventually found a rock star developer who turned things around.
If you are still considering becoming a startup founder after reading this, then I have some quick & dirty advice to share from another blog.