Being a startup guy is kind of like “the new black” these days. Much like Hansel, startups are so hot right now and it seems like the thing to do is quit your well-paying corporate gig and develop some app that does things like connecting bacon fanatics with the best butcher shops in various cities or diagnosing HPV via an Oculus virtual reality set.
I totally get it. I grew up the son of an entrepreneur but I never thought it would be my path. Yet after 10 years in corporate America I decided to become a startup guy, and seven-plus years later, I remain one today.
The problem with a lot of startup guys, however, is that many of us are assholes. The reasons vary but we’re often so eager to say we were able to reconstruct some industry’s universe or to show the world we can do something better, faster, more effectively, and then raise buckets of dough from venture capitalists to pay for it all. And when someone scoffs at our concept – and it happens more often than not until we can prove it out – we really get our asshole on.
Our zeal to demonstrate just how right we are ends up burning more bridges than we’d care to remember, whether or not we are the transcendent forces we perceive ourselves to be.
In retrospect, I continually ask myself what I could have done differently. I’m sure I was an asshole to some degree but you’d have to ask those around me for the honest perspective. Assuming I was, however, and I could go back seven years and speak to my thinner, dumber, younger self with a much healthier liver – what the hell would I say?
Here are a few thoughts:
1. You’re an asshole: Acceptance is the first step. You are probably, to some degree, an asshole. It doesn’t mean you need to continue being an asshole, but you are one, and if you don’t like it, you’re welcome to fix it.
2. Be kind: Just because you started a company that no one’s ever heard of doesn’t mean you can’t be nice to people. No matter how wealthy or powerful you may think you are going to become, you’ll always need people to help you make your product or company better, to assist you in putting on some event, connect you with a key person, or whatever.
3. You’re not that important: Most of us aren’t curing cancer. And even if your startup is curing cancer, the next time you get an email from some dude who simply wants to meet you and pick your brain, take the meeting. You can actually take time out of your schedule to meet with people who are eager to meet you. Just keep it to 30 minutes, listen, engage, and have a human experience beyond throwing down shots of Fireball Whisky with your bros in the kitchen of your startup digs.
4. Continually acknowledge others: Even if you’re convinced you did all the work yourself, you unquestionably did not. More than likely you had a lot of help. No man (or woman) is an island.
5. You didn’t invent hard work: We get it. You work hard. Good for you. It’s your right but no one really cares. But you didn’t invent the practice so stop trying so hard to make it seems like you did.
6. Keep reinventing: People get tired of things really fast. Remember Hootie and the Blowfish? You do, but you probably don’t care about them anymore. Your new innovation today will be old tomorrow, so while today you might have invented your bacon connection app – tomorrow you need to create a virtual cure for herpes for smartphones. Get on it.
7. Wisdom aplenty: You may be the smartest guy in the room for the time being, there is always someone smarter than you are right around the corner.
8. Walk the walk: Don’t be that guy who tells everyone else how to do something if you’ve never done it yourself. Get to work.