How hard it is to be a (top) founder: on a quest for excellence
Don't start a startup unless you're prepared to be obsessed with it to paranoia levels and work evenings and weekends.
When I was a first-time founder, I used to advise people to become founders for several reasons:
- To solve a problem they're passionate about. There's nothing more rewarding than working on something you believe in and seeing it make a positive impact on the world.
- To be your own boss and chart your own destiny. As a founder, you have the freedom to build the company you want, the way you want.
- and many other reasons.
But as a second-time founder, I don't anymore. I tend to do the opposite and tell people not to start a startup. Very few people are made to be unicorn builders. Because:
- There are infinite reasons why you can fail. Founder conflict, losing your product-market-fit, key employees leaving you, lawsuits, cyberhacks ruining your reputation, incumbents blocking your success, new entrants becoming a threat, running out of funding... the list goes on.
- To be able to mitigate that risk, you need to be thinking about your business 24/7, every single second, and spend your full energy with most intensity thinking and executing. Every minute where you don't do this is a minute where any threat can potentially beat you. At this point today, we prefer staying in and work on our business over most social activities. Not because we feel compelled to, but because we take pleasure in it. If you're not able to do this, you're simply not cut to become a successful founder.
- The foundation of a successful startup lies in knowing a secret which sets the venture apart from others. This secret is something that is not widely acknowledged or noticed but holds the potential to drive monumental change or create significant value. In order to get to that secret, a successful founder needs to work as hard as they can, and exponentially smarter and harder than any of their competitors.
My cofounder and I have been thinking about Attention day and night, which is why we've been able to move at such speed. He's the last text I send before I go to sleep, and the first text I send to as soon as I wake up. Having the ability to be so obsessed with our business compounds itself and delivers superlinear results for us. Any week where we haven't learned something new or achieved a milestone is a failed one.
We've been working extremely hard and hiring very slowly so that every single employee that we have works day and night to be the best at their craft, and look after the business as much as they can.
As a founder, before you hire the next employee, you need to make sure that they have all these values deeply engrained. Because if one doesn't, there's a contamination effect to new employees. Everyone needs to be bought in, period.
If you want to be in the top 5 startups and founders of your generation, there's no other secret than being absolutely obsessed with your business to paranoia levels, and work evenings and weekends. Obviously, recharging is important so that you optimize your impact over every single hour worked. Every top athlete, artist/musician, and businessman I've met or read about has been on this quest for excellence.
This quest for excellence is something that drives us as founders on a daily basis: my cofounder and I constantly ask for or deliver to each other feedback. These continuous feedback loops, compounded, get you to excellence. This is why, within our product, our sales reps get immediate feedback after each of their customer calls. Why should they wait 7 days to get to our next 1-1 or coaching session, while they can get that feedback delivered every single day, 5 times a day?
This quest for excellence is a way I filter for new friends or how much time I try to allocate to people, today. The little time that I have, I need to spend it with hyper-ambitious and brilliant people who share the same values and thoughts. In the past, I've been stuck in so many social situations where other people consider me immodest because of the way I view the world and want to achieve things, and any of these situations can have a very minor yet non-negligible impact on my quest for excellence. Anyone who can consider this view as extreme is someone who does not understand what it's like to want to be in the top 0.1% of their field. When spending time with people who are the best at what they do (sports, arts, music, film, business), this is a common thread that I keep seeing: they all have a very strong ability to separate signal from noise.