April 6th, 2022 | By: Wil Schroter
I grew up with zero choices. As a broke kid with a single mom, I never really understood what people were talking about when they said they could "choose" how life worked for them. I just got used to being stuck with zero choices and dealing with the outcomes.
"Oh, you want to pay me 'ones of dollars' to mow your lawn? OK! I guess that’s what I have to do, because I need money."
Later on in life, I got to live this all over again as a broke startup Founder. No one presented me with an abundance of choices, I just took what I could get because I was constantly leveraged. Unfortunately, that runs a bit counter to the popular narrative we're hearing in startup culture, where we somehow have all the choices in the world and we're simply not making the best choices.
I'm calling bullshit on this. 99% of the startup Founders I know are totally leveraged and have very few if any of these choices in the real world. We take what we can get, when we can get it, and guess what? It's not awesome.
We're constantly told that we need to "choose the right investors" for our startup, as if we're the lead contestant in a Bachelor-style reality show and all we have to do is give the "funding rose" to the right suitor. Meanwhile, we're looking at our inbox with exactly zero responses from a single investor.
When we have no one knocking, we don't "choose" jack shit. We take what we can get from anyone that's willing to write a check. That's our reality.
The only way for us to change that leverage is to get more investors competing for our deal, but for most Founders that's a very tall order. There are typically a small number of deals that are truly competitive, but for everyone else, the beggars can't be choosers.
Picking our co-Founder will likely be the single most important decision we make early in our startups life (or not picking one, which is also an option). We can read even more advice on how important it is to get the right co-Founder but that also assumes we have all kinds of choices.
Right now we've got an idea in our head and there's exactly one person that thinks it's good enough to partner with us. There it is. We get that one person. It's 2 a.m. at the bar ("Closing time..") and there's one person still there. That's our partner. To torture that scenario further, we're not just taking that person home, we're marrying them and giving them half of everything we have (equity).
If this sounds familiar it's because at the time we don't realize the gravity of the decision we're making, and how leveraged we are when we're making it. Think about it this way - when is the last time we had zero choices which lead to our best decision?
Should we punt this decision until later? Probably. But the reality is we're kinda stuck with what we have if this is the moment we're going to make this decision.
If we're going to talk about all these choices we're supposedly allowed to make, we'd be remiss in not mentioning this whole "work-life balance" that everyone keeps raving about. The thinking goes that we're supposed to close our laptop, forget about work for a while, and go enjoy life.
Hmm. Let's think about that. We're completely broke personally, we've got a few months of runway in the bank for our startup, and every relationship in our life is strained because of this venture. What version of that leads to "Let's take a relaxing walk in nature?"
It doesn't. Yes, it's absolutely a choice as to whether we want to create a better work-life balance, and of course, we should "choose" to do that. But we don't. Why? Because when we're stressed AF the last thing on our minds is doing anything that doesn't have to do with making that stress go away, which in our case, usually means working nonstop.
Now, none of these choices are fun, and most of our options suck. But that's the real reality for most startup Founders. So if you're reading this, and you're one of 99% of us who are feeling this way, take heart in knowing you're not alone. We're all in this.
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Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.