There's a certain glamour that surrounds the start-up world. Founding a company seems to be an increasingly popular goal, especially amongst my generation. Perhaps because our sense of entitlement pushes us to be our own boss, or perhaps because there aren't many other job options, so we might as well start a business while enjoying unemployment. There's a lot said about start-ups, and a lot that is left unsaid. As Thread celebrates its first anniversary of incorporation, here are some things that have I have learned along the way.
It's Terrific.The first thing I can say about making the jump from a stable job, into working for a company you're helping to start, is that it is the best. It really is. A lot of the cliche stuff actually happens; late night white board sessions with pizza, beers in the conference room, coming in when you want, wearing what you want, and sharing an office space with awesome people. That being said...
Get Ready to Feel the Entire Spectrum of Human Emotion on a Daily Basis.I have spent the majority of the past couple months vacillating between extreme excitement, and abject terror. Your highs are massive, your lows are crushing, and you still have to deal with everything in between. At my former job, putting out fires meant dealing with easily fixed problems like; filling in for speakers who ran late, meeting recruitment goals, and making sure all of my sponsors received all the sponsorship benefits I told them they'd receive. Things that yea, could be stressful, but wouldn't cause the organization to have to close its doors or anything.
Not so in a start-up. In a start-up, putting out fires, often actually means coming up with ways to keep the lights on for another month. You usually only have enough of a budget to get one shot to complete a project, so you can't mess up. Add on the pressure of a social venture, where you know first hand the positive impact you can have on lives, and what's at stake if you fail, and you are dealing with real true stress.
The best advice I can give is to take care of yourself. It's really tempting to stress-eat junk, live off of take out, give up exercise to drink wine, and forgo sleep for a few more hours of work, but that kind of unbalance will make you a fat nervous wreck.
Find your sweat-thing - for me its running, and make it a non-negotiable part of your schedule. Push yourself physically, to give yourself a break mentally, and to ensure that you are regularly flooding your body with enough dopamine and serotonin to combat the cortisol that is building up in your system. Have a network who you can call and say, "I'm freaking out! And I need you to talk me off the ledge!" Drink water. Go to sleep. Eat some real foods, that you cook yourself. This often saves you money too, which is good, because unless you are independently wealthy...
Get Ready to Live Like a Student AgainBoot strapping means learning to live on a serious budget, or with no income at all while you ramp up revenue and investments. You will have to stop buying clothes, cut back on going/eating out, pause your philanthropic giving, and take a break from contributing to a retirement fund. You may also have to move, drain your savings, borrow money from your parents, and pick up part time work.
All of that sounds like a lot, and it is. However its a sacrifice that seems totally worth it when you really believe in your colleagues and the idea you're all working towards.
Get Ready to BondOne of my fellow Threadheads has a mentor who, when first learning of this project warned her that, "Starting a business is like entering into a group marriage." Disclaimer: I'm not married. But, I don't think that statement is too far off. We are in contact every day. Our group dynamic and relationship is unlike anything else I have ever been a part of. We are coworkers, but we have become family. We have hard conversations about money, and values, and what we want our future to look like. We have been through accidents, births, cancer, break ups, and the fear of not knowing how we're going to pay next month's rent together. We celebrate, we argue, we tease, we cry, and we laugh a lot. We have very few secrets.
I imagine that entrepreneurship can be very isolating and lonely at times for those who do it alone, and I cannot fathom having this experience without the support of my team.
It's not always good. Neither is marriage from what I hear. And I would be lying if I didn't say that there haven't been scary moments where I'm sitting in a meeting and have thought "What am I doing here?" And for a brief second I think about walking out and running away and starting over. But you don't, and within hours you're reminded of why you love and trust these people and what you're all doing here in the first place.
The other Threadheads are the kind of people I would consider myself lucky to even know. To have the honor of working with them to create a company, and to be inspired by them on a daily basis is just awesome.
Get Ready to Work All the TimeYes, you take time off, and you have fun. You need to - or else you will become boring, and lose your mind, and then you're no good to anyone, least of all your teammates who are depending on you. What I mean is that work is no longer this thing you need to escape from. It's something you want to do, and so you do it constantly.
I have happily spent vacation time reading through case studies, and checking my email. I problem solve and brainstorm while working out. I talk about trash at parties, and sometimes state composting statistics on dates. I get weirdly excited about subject matter I never thought I would have an interest in. I can't wait to get asked the question "So, what do you do?"
When you love your work, when you find it fascinating, it infiltrates itself into all the aspects of your life.
One Year Down
I can't believe I'm part of a company that is a year old! A year is a milestone, and this year has flown. We are still so young, and have so much to do, and I can't wait to celebrate this anniversary for years to come.
I can't say thank you enough to everyone who has and continues to support us, invest in us, teach us, mentor us, advise us, challenge us, and believe in us enough to do so.