Reflections on Gratitude, Grit and Growth

As the current year draws to a close and the next one begins, most people get a little introspective—and entrepreneurs are no exception. Every year has its ups and downs, and startup founders understand this better than most.

November 21st, 2018   |    By: Ryan Rutan

Being a founder is hard — and we should be grateful for that.

We don’t feel grateful all the time. At least not when we’re lying awake at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, staring at the ceiling wondering how we have created so muchdebt in such a short period of time and then looking over at our spouse who is probably pretending to sleep — pondering the same question.

But, I believe it is the sleepless nights, the awkward conversations at family dinners, the long days without measurable progress and the other thousand things that most people wouldn’t tolerate that makes the solutions we build valuable — and the pursuit worthwhile. We relish the challenge as much as the outcome.

As the holidays quickly approach, perhaps you’re like me and find yourself reflecting on the past year. This might be a side-effect of the tryptophan-loaded turkey you just ate. Or, it could be something you subconsciously start doing after you’ve reviewed the financials for Q4. Or, it’s the cold weather keeping me out of my kayak. Whatever it is —this time of year I find myself more willing to wander down memory lane.

I reflect on the tangible, objective accomplishments of the year:

  1. That amazing new developer we hired;
  2. The growth of our email list;
  3. The new on boarding process we created to make user experience better;
  4. The increases in top-line revenue;
  5. The decreases in churn.

I also reflect on the intangible, subjective elements — which, can be harder to pin down and even harder to define. These tend to be the things that I’m extremely grateful for, that fueled me throughout the year, and kept me furiously focused on our mission at Startups.com.

They typically stem from one of the following attributes:

  1. Working on something I’m intensely passionately about;
  2. With a team that truly inspires me;
  3. For people who I care deeply about.

Driven by Passion

When it’s 6AM and I’m in my kayak, holding fishing pole, with only a pelican for company, I’m thinking about two things:

  1. I can’t wait to paddle back in and help founders tackle really tough issues all day.
  2. This pelican really doesn’t seem to follow everything I just told him about optimizing his funnel.

This is in stark contrast to the frequent conversation I have with aspiring entrepreneurs about the dread they’re filled with as they head to their desk, counting the hours until they’re allowed to run screaming for the hills. Just thinking about this has me hyperventilating into a paper bag!

I’m incredibly grateful that I get to do something that pulls me willingly into the fight every day. Incidentally, that fight is helping other’s find that same panacea in their own lives. Pretty meta — I know.

Surrounded by inspiration

Imagine walking into a room where everyone shares the same undying passion for solving a problem that you care so deeply about that you’d do it without a paycheck. Now, imagine that place is your office, your favorite co-working space or a Zoom meeting with your remote team. That’s the reality we strive for.

When I walk into our offices, I overhear conversation after conversation that I want to take part in. The enthusiasm, passion and camaraderie is contagious.

The opposite is also true. I’ve walked into offices where there were no conversations. There were no bonds. People didn’t ask personal questions and they didn’t know details — all because they didn’t care. Apathy is also contagious.

We’ve been very deliberate in building a company culture here at Startups.com. My partner, Wil Schroter, wrote a great piece on how we’ve optimized our culture for happiness. For us, that means surrounding ourselves with people who we like being around. People who are great at jobs they also love. People who inspire those around them through a shared passion for helping founders on their journey, and their individual passions for their own crafts.

There is no room for jerks at our table.

Life is simply too short to spend it with them. I’m grateful I don’t have to.

Humbled by you

There is something that makes my hair stand on end every single time it happens — responding to the “Founder Bat Signal”. The moment I pick up the phone to call a fellow founder who has raised a hand and asked for help, I’m simultaneously hit with two overwhelming feelings:

  1. A rush of adrenaline and anticipation at the prospect of tackling a problem that I’m unsure I’m fit to solve, but willing to dive headlong into regardless;
  2. How humbled I am to have the opportunity to play a part in your epic journey as a founder hero.

I know all too well how it feels to be on the other end; frustrated by a recurring issue with technology, a nightmare scenario involving the staff, a string of failed attempts to scale customer acquisition, or just the isolation that comes from running a company.

I want you to succeed. I want you to validate your idea. I want you to find product market fit. I want to hit profitability. I care because we share something amazing: the opportunity to seize destiny and shape it.

I am grateful that you gave me this purpose. It is a gift to each and every one of us at Startups.com.

So, as you reflect on your own year — and all the ups and downs that it entailed — keep being grateful that this is how you spend your days. Building something that is uniquely and unquestionablyyours.

Getting to grateful isn’t easy. But, the journey is extraordinary — and, we should be grateful for that, too.

About the Author

Ryan Rutan

Ryan Rutan is a Founding Partner and the Chief Innovation Officer at Startups.co. He's 20 years an entrepreneur, a father twice over, and on a mission to give startup founders everything they need to succeed. Follow: @ryanarutan

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