Monday, March 21, 2011

Like war, everything in startups is life or death

I'll just come out and say it.  For most people who lead ordinary lives without crisis, starting a startup is by far one of the hardest thing you can ever do.  It is incredibly intense.  One day, I woke up to our site being down for close to 4 hours.  By hour 3, I was headed for the Golden Gate bridge ready to leap to sweet relief.  Later that day, we forged a partnership with two record labels with incredible rosters and were all patting each other on the backs.  And even later that night, Yuri Milner and Ron Conway showed up to YC and handed out checks for $150,000.

It's like being on a rollercoaster except that the lows feel like you just lost all of your investors' money, which in our case will leave us with no friends or family to speak of, and will have to go begging your old colleagues for a job.  And the highs feel like someone just handed you $150,000 without even knowing what your company does, because they did.  And in terms of lows, the site going down is only a 1 compared to some of the 2s and 3s we've had, which all felt like 10s or worse at the time.

I can only imagine that the road ahead makes these things pale in comparison.  When our site went down, 100 people probably noticed.  In the future, we obviously hope that number is in the millions.  Everything will be amplified in the future.  Fearing that your errors will lose your team their jobs will be worse when that team is 200 employees strong.  Fearing that Google will enter your market will be worse the day they actually do.  When millions of dollars have been put into your company, and more people rely on you, and more people have heard you say how you're going to be the team who changes an industry, failing sounds like the worst thing that could ever happen to you.

Everything about running a startup seems like life or death.  And so you are at war.  You are at war against the clock.  You are at war against your competitors.  You are at war with anything and everything that stands in your way.  And that means that, most of all, you are at war with yourself.

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