In an investor backed startup, there is one expectation….grow.
It’s the word that haunts your existence. Grow and everything is easier. Raising money, hiring people, working harder, and everything in between.
Don’t grow and your fucked.
Slower growth isn’t just that life got harder. It’s much more binary than that. It changes your entire trajectory to survive.
Just look at the public markets. If a company is growing it’s stock goes up every quarter. If it’s not, it gets crushed. And that cycle is only happening faster. Just as Blue Apron, Snap, GoPro, Zulilly, Twitter, and Fitbit. Good companies getting trashed because they aren’t growing fast enough. By all intense of purposes, these companies won the startup game. They returned billions in capital to their investors and employees.
The same phenomena happens in the private markets, you just don’t directly see it until it’s over. It’s unclear until you’re writing your startup’s post mortem about how you were so close…just missing this one thing. That one thing was growth. You didn’t have enough of it.
The problem is no one will directly tell you how fucked you are. Investors will still take your meetings. Press will still write about you. New employees will still apply. The perception is that if you just try a little bit harder it will click. It’s not true.
If you don’t grow fast enough your fucked.
That means you have to dramatically change your trajectory to get back on track. These are not small decisions. These are massive decisions that may require restarting your own company to create the growth required.
What is underestimated is the personal toll this expectation takes on a founding ceo. Because to everyone else this opportunity is one of many. To your investors you are one bet within a portfolio. To your employees you are one job in their career. To your customers you are a solution they will find a way to move on from. But to you this is just one of a few opportunities in your whole life.
The energy it takes to build a startup from the ground up is too great to start over multiple times. It’s one thing to run a company you scaled, i.e. Bezos, Musk, and Hastings. It’s another thing entirely to start over from scratch and build a new one. The effort to start and the demand to grow are just too great.
Which means if you dedicated years to your current company and it’s not growing faster…you’re fucked.
This is a cynical way to look at building of startups but it’s true in how binary the outcomes are if you raise capital. Just ask every founder that didn’t make it. Or every founder that got stuck running a…not growing fast enough venture backed startup. It’s just something you can’t fathom until it doesn’t work out.
Four years into Moment I can feel that weight. The requirement to keep the throttle down while flying just close enough to the sun we don’t blow up the plane. All the while trying to maintain the energy required to coach and nurture a team. It’s a struggle no one talks about while they’re flying the plane. It’s just something they admit after they crash it.
If you crack growth everything else gets easier. If you don’t crack it, you’re fucked.
(Or alternatively don’t raise capital and just worry about one half of the equation…enough cash in the bank. This stress comes with investor backed startups, but isn’t compounded by the requirement to grow.)