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Why you shouldn’t start a startup
There are many reasons to start a startup. You’re excited to work with people on a big, substantive project. You like a challenge and want to own something. You want to leave your mark on the world.
One of the main reasons I’ve started three startups is that I like to work with smart, talented people who push me to do my best work. A startup is a great way to pull together such a group.
When you’re considering founding a startup, it’s important to pressure-test your commitment by considering the reasons you shouldn’t start one. Founding a startup is hard, and most startups fail. Before you start a startup, take the time to consider whether it’ll really make you happy.
Importantly: there’s no right answer. You’re not somehow less awesome if starting a company isn’t the way to achieve your objectives
Here are some reasons that you should not start a startup:
You want to be rich
9 out of 10 startups fail. Odds are, yours will be one of them. If your goal is simply to make a lot of money, there are easier and more predictable paths to achieving that than starting a company.
In particular, you should work in finance or as an engineer at a big tech company (or maybe become an anesthesiologist?). You won’t become a billionaire, but your likelihood of generating very meaningful wealth is significantly higher.
You crave validation
There is no A for effort in startups. Your company is either successful or it isn’t. Unlike almost everything else in the world, you don’t get credit for how hard you tried with a startup.
This is true both externally, from the world, and internally, from your own team. As a founder, when things go right, no one tells you that you’re doing a good job. But when things go wrong, you’ll definitely hear about it. In other words, you’re either meeting expectations (which, of course you are, so why would we say anything?) or you’re underperforming.
You need certainty
The founder’s journey is lonely and full of cognitive dissonance. Rationally, you know that most startups fail. You’re viscerally aware that your startup is constantly teetering on the brink of nonexistence, and with a couple missteps, poof, it could all be over*.
*Note to Pilot employees, investors, and customers: our company is doing great, don’t worry.
But a huge component of your job is convincing people—your employees, your investors, and your customers—that things are going great and your success is inevitable. These folks don’t particularly want to hear about your internal angst, and they shouldn’t have to.
The only outlet for your doubts will be your cofounder, spouse, or therapist (and maybe all three), and that will wear on you (and them).
You want to be famous
Don’t start a company just because you want to be a tech celebrity, or because you think it’s cool to tell people that you have a startup, or because all of your friends from business school are doing startups. Your desire for fame and cachet will not motivate you when times get tough. And I promise that times will definitely get tough: when you lose a customer, or a key employee quits, or you can’t raise money.
If you’re driven by fame, you’re going to make the decisions that help you become a celebrity, not the decisions that help you build a business. You're going to waste all your time on the stuff you think founders should be doing, instead of building your company—and if you do that, you’re guaranteeing that your business will fail.
Doing a startup is an uphill climb, and to navigate it successfully, you need to be doing it for the right reason: You have a strong belief that the world should be a certain way, and you’re excited to put in the elbow grease required to cause the world to be that way.
And if that’s not your cup of tea, that’s totally OK too.
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