We get paid for Finishes, not Starts

I'm running a startup now, but I'd really like to just back burner this thing and focus on this cool new idea I have. How should I be evaluating the costs of launching this new thing both financially and opportunistically?

November 11th, 2020   |    By: Wil Schroter

There's no paycheck in starting companies. It's the finishing part that matters.

I say this because many of us simply love the thrill and idea of starting another startup. There's always this thought — "Boy, if I could just launch this one idea that I can't stop thinking about (while forgoing my existing startup), it'll be amazing!"

Here's where the logic in that breaks down over, and over, and over.

It's Gonna Cost us 7-10 Years to be Right or Wrong

Every single time we start something anew, we reset the clock on how long it will take to make it successful. No matter how good we are, the maturation rate of a company will almost always take 7-10 years — if we're actually successful with it. That's the successful timeline, not the un-successful timeline.

That means every time we hit reset, we're pushing our window out nearly a decade for fulfilling our destiny (said with a shaking first in a Darth Vader voice). Depending on where we are in life, that can have some major consequences. It's easier to do when we're 22, a bit harder when we're 32, and starts to cost something real at 42.

And oh by the way — that doesn't assume those 7+ years are successful. It takes a long time to be un-successful too!

We Reset our Probability of Success — Again

Let's say we're running a $1 million per year business doing just OK. So like every other Founder we're thinking "Well that wasn't what I wanted, and this new idea could be the next <insert company we'll never be as big as> so let me wind down my efforts here and start this new thing." (If you haven't figured this out by now, as a Founder who started 9 companies, I'm literally just writing out my own personal journal notes here...)

But here's the problem. We often project the certainty of our success in the last endeavor to be the same path or certainty in our next endeavor. "I know way more now than I knew then, this is a better idea, yada-yada." It's all true on paper.

In practice, however, every time we start a new business we reset the probability of success. I've done 9 startups - every single time they ended differently. In some cases, I was running multiple startups at the same time and watched their paths dramatically change in the same week. We have to assume that whatever success we've had to date is not a predictor of doing again.

That means for as cool as this new idea is, there's a fairly good chance it's going to fail (the odds are not in our favor) so we have to seriously consider the cost of that outcome if we're not seeing it through.

Starting isn't a Victory — Finishing is

As glorious and exciting as starting companies is — and it really is awesome — that's not really how we get rewarded in this game. We get rewarded from all of the long, boring, monotonous crap that eventually turns into a viable enterprise. That's what gets taken to public markets, purchased by big companies, or converts into a corporate ATM for us personally.

We get paid for our finishes — how we see things through — not the starts. If we really want to hang our entrepreneurial trophies on the wall, we should be 100% focused on how we get things past the finish line first.

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About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, 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.

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