February 3rd, 2021 | By: Wil Schroter
As a Founder, no one really understands WTF we do other than another Founder. Our lives are basically attending a bunch of events where the conversation goes something like this:
Friend: "So, how is that startup thing you're doing?"
Founder: "It's going well (not true), but our burn rate is pretty significant and I don't know if we'll be able to raise another round of cash."
Friend: "Oh, OK. So what is it that you do again?"
Does this sound familiar? Look, I've been a startup Founder for nearly 30 years and to this day most of my family thinks "I do something with computers." This is pretty standard fare, but for first-time Founders, it often feels like this bizarre version of the Matrix that we're living in where we're the only people that really know what's going on.
Let's not overlook the fact that the reason no one understands what we really do is because it makes no sense. Rational people (i.e. not us) would go to work at a job where the effort results in real income, days off, and an expectation of more of both. Idiots like us seem way too optimistic about the idea of risking everything we have, building a product that no one may want, and likely never getting paid in the process.
So before we even wonder why we have to keep explaining what we do, let's not forget that our version of life goes against everything a rational person would do for a living. So we're not just explaining the product we sell, we're explaining an entire lifestyle, which most people just can't comprehend.
I have a good friend who is a Special Forces officer in the U.S. Military. At our BBQs, he will update me on what he's up to. Now, at a high level I understand what he does — I've seen every 80's action movie, and I'm sure that's 100% accurate as to what his job is — but unlike him, I've never been shot at! I know what he does in theory, but I have never experienced it, which is how you really know it.
Our friends understand that we run a startup. But they aren't lying awake at 3 a.m. wondering how the hell they are going to make payroll next week (and the week after that). A bad day at work for them probably doesn't mean losing all of their life savings, having dozens of vendors come after them for contract breaches, and angry mobs of recently laid off staff sending them really inappropriate memes.
But Founders get that instantly. When we share our same update with another Founder, they not only understand the context of what we said, they understand the feeling of what we said. They get the consequences as they are truly felt.
It's damn near pointless to truly convey the nuance of what we do because our jobs are mostly an exercise in risk and failure. Instead, our best bet is to translate what we do into a different context that reasonable people can understand. At Startups.com we've got consulting services, Founder Groups, SaaS products, virtual assistant services, and more. But when people ask what I do, I simply say: "I help people start companies." The conversation invariably dies 3 seconds later.
It’s important for us to consider our audience. When we're talking to Founders, we can get into the details. When we're talking to gen pop, we're better off with the caveman explanation.
But yes, grandma, I love you dearly, and I'm still doing that thing with the computer.
I’m Killing Myself. How is Everyone Else Finding Work/Life Balance? We're supposed to believe that we can build a world-changing startup from nothing while simultaneously traveling to exotic places and enjoying our "best life". For most of us, that just doesn't add up. What's blowing us up, though, is how we approach the problem.
We Are NOT Our Startups Being a Founder can be all-encompassing. We give everything we have to our startup, so how do we NOT attach our self-worth to its performance?
How to Mix a Family and a Startup. How do we create a proper balance between growing our family and growing our startups? Do we have to swim in a sea of guilt through this entire journey or is there some other way to get ahead?
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.