March 24th, 2021 | By: Wil Schroter | Tags: Strategy
There we are, once again, sitting at yet another Founder get-together while everyone tells us how great their startups are doing. Oh shit, that woman just said that they raised a massive round of funding. That guy just said he just surpassed 100 employees. The other person (I'm losing count) just claimed they are growing 50% per month.
"WTF? I thought I was doing great and now listening to everyone else I feel like a total loser."
And there it is. The age-old startup-sizing "competition" where we indeliberately one-up each other with how amazing our startups are doing. In the process, we all make each other feel miserable about ourselves.
What's that? You don't do that at get-togethers? Well, if you're like most, you're doing it anyway in social media updates, business articles, and silly gossip. The result is always the same — we feel worse about our own progress by applying some arbitrary metric that someone else established.
It turns out this fantastic little quote from Jay-Z says it all — "What you eat don't make me shit" (Heart of the City / Ain't no Love). Sure, it may be a little crass, but it's so. damn. accurate.
What he's saying is that no matter how well (or poorly) you're doing, my life is just the same. And even though we know there are no real connected consequences to how other people are doing versus ourselves (unless we're direct competitors) it doesn't change how it makes us feel. If everyone around us is doing 10x better than us, we feel awful about our own progress, even if we felt great about it prior to their update.
Here's the thing — there's no way to win this game. The way we think about winning it is we just perform better. If we grow more, raise more, do more — that's what will give us the rock-paper-scissors victory in every one of those situations. But it doesn't work like that. That's because no matter what we do, there will always be some version of the same nagging one-upmanship.
I mean c'mon, Bezos got one-upped by Elon. How much higher up can you possibly get?
There will always be someone bigger, younger, faster, smarter — you name it. What matters is how well we are doing on our own playing field, not someone else's. But that part does actually matter because that's the true measure of our own performance, not someone else’s.
I've said this before — the only way to win this game is to opt-out of it altogether. It's really hard to feel bad about how someone else is doing when you actually don't care. Think of it this way — somewhere there is some young Founder somewhere growing at a geometric rate in an industry you couldn't possibly care about and you'll never hear about them. But we don't care because we've essentially opted out by not even knowing who they are. We are simply a reflection of what we let in.
This isn't just something that we need to do for ourselves, it's something we need to remind other Founders of as well. It's a matter of simple empathy when we make it clear to other Founders that our progress isn't a competition with theirs — that we're happy for both journeys. It's also the subtle things we do to temper our "look at the size of my startup" bravado with a little bit of friggin' humility!
Regardless of the approach, we take, the most important part is starting to build a community where we recognize each journey as its own, and stop comparing income statements as a measure of our own self-worth.
Optimize For Productivity. Working through peak productivity is easy. It’s the valleys that we’re concerned about. The key is to plan for and optimize the valleys so we can recharge effectively.
Don’t Work Long Hours, Work Efficient Hours. As Founders, we should stop being "long hours" champions and instead start being proud of how much we can do in as few hours as possible.
How Much Should I Be Working? (podcast). Wil and Ryan take a deep dive into the benefits of thinking quality and not quantity when it comes to your weekly punch card.
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.