Over the course of the last two years (since I started BinaryEdge) I’ve both discussed with other founders a set of topics, and a regular one that is brought up is “the opinions and sentences said by our friends and family”.
My objective with this post is to once and for all have a reference I can point my own friends and family to when they have some questions about how it is “being a founder of a startup” and “my own boss”.
The “reality” part won’t be the same for all of us founders, some have had it better than me, some have had it worse. My answers here are based on my own experiences and discussions with other founders.
I will breakdown each subtopic in 3 parts, the “Assumption/Sentence” (what people think), the “reality” (what actually goes on) and the “real benefit” (of being a founder in this situation).
Reality: Let’s start by breaking down this one into two parts:
These days, I wake up at 10AM (yes later than I did for my normal job), I jump into the shower, sometimes with my phone (yes it is water resistant) and immediately start checking which emails I have and if I got some replies from the day before. Then I have my breakfast (while on the phone), then I sit at my desk and will only get up at 2PM, to go to the kitchen eat up lunch and sit back down, continuously either replying to emails, checking in with the team, or looking at the features and testing new things that have been deployed. This usually goes all the way up until 9/10PM. Also, in a startup and as a founder, you work weekends and you don’t get paid extra or at a special rate.
Sometimes my schedule isn’t really mine anymore as I have to make my schedule available around the prospective clients that we might have for calls/meetings.
Also, while on the free time topic, in the last 2 years of being a founder, I count that I’ve had 2 proper weeks of holidays (and from what I hear from other founders I’m lucky in this department).
If you’re just starting and it is just you and maybe a co-founder, this is true, you make the decisions and no one will tell you what to do. However, the moment you take an investment in, then its no longer “just you” and you do need to answer to someone. This someone is called a board of directors.
Depending on the type of deal you make, you might need to report to them every X times per week/month, or for example you can’t,on your own, make a decision over some amount of money. At this phase you’re no longer “the only boss where you can do whatever you want” and you do need to justify and sometimes even ask for approval for your decisions.
This doesn’t need to be a bad thing however, the board is often there to help you progress the company and to help it grow.
Real Benefit: In this specific situation, the real benefit of being a startup founder is if you have something you like to do that is conditioned by something. What does this mean?
In my case, I like to photograph (for some people it’s going snowboarding, surfing or just reading a book under the sun). Some very specific photos I can only catch at a certain time of day or under specific weather conditions. In case those happen and I don’t have a call or meeting, I can just grab my camera and go. I don’t have to ask anybody, or if I was at a corporate job stay at my desk while looking outside at everyone in the sun.
Reality: Part of it is true. I have a lot of fun when I am with my team.
They are like a second family to me.
They work super super super hard to work on what was initially my dream and that I now hope is also theirs, which is build a great product, and see internet becoming a more secure place (we are a cybersecurity company).
And of course, when I am with them, I try to make sure they have fun and enjoy their time.
And yes, sometimes we do show up on the news. But it’s not out of magic or because we paid for it or out of cheer luck. It’s because we worked our asses off, putting in the extra time and extra effort to try and do something that makes us stand out from the rest.
To give you two examples:
A couple of months ago, we got invited to participate in a study done by O’reilly on Development workflows for data scientists. Comparing the other companies that were there (Github, AirBnB, ScotiaBank), we are probably smaller as a company than any individual team inside these companies. But it took a lot of extra hours, looking at the questions, understand how to answer them and, even before we got to this point, writing the blogpost that lead to us getting found to participate in this study was a lot of hard work as well.
(It’s important to take into account when you are a small company, resources are scarce and you really need to manage your time well.)
The second example was our Internet Security Exposure report.
Getting this out took for 3 months a lot of 18+ hours of work per day.
From getting the data, analysing it, creating the data visualizations, draft reviews etc… and all of this gets done while still building a great product and maintaining our customers happy.
These are two examples of our work that got re-tweeted, shared and showed up on the news. But the point here is that, it wasn’t easy, and when you see just the blogpost or news article where you showed your need to understand the road that got us there, not just the spotlight.
While on this topic when we published the ISE, we also did our Bsides Lisbon and Pixel Camps talk. Again here we tried our best to stand out, we could have just gone on stage and do our presentation but we decided we wanted to go the extra mile and built a “mini comic book” that showed how we created our data science team.
Do we do this because we just feel like we have too much free time? No, we do this because the startup world is cutthroat, as a startup you are not an established brand and have a job where you can just say “I work for X big brand and I can just show up do my job everyday that my payday is guaranteed”, you have to innovate, you have to stand out.
People see the posts on facebook and twitter, they see the bright side. If you sit down with a founder and ask them about the bad nights you will hear the real side of it:
Real Benefit: As a founder there are multiple benefits here.
Reality: Again it depends. Don’t assume every startup already went through rounds of investment or even that those rounds allowed for “party money”.
For me, personally, I could easily be earning 3x what I currently do if I had stayed at my corporate job or took some of the offers I receive sometimes.
In our case, we took a seed round to take our product from MVP to a usable product and to give us a buffer until we acquired our first customer, and after that what we got paid would have to pay our salaries.
We decided to keep pushing without raising another round.
(This is a personal choice, but I’m still a big believer in validating your product with paying customers. I see a lot of startups raising money without having customers or an actual product and they keep raising and raising without actually ever having a plan on how to make money.)
Real benefit: The less people you bring in as investors the less people telling you what to do. And yes if / when you get acquired or go into an IPO you can make a lot more money. (Same for the team that built the company with you, a good example of this was the whatsapp team).
I think these three are a good start. At this point you might be thinking “why did you ever bother starting your own company then?”
Its a huge ecosystem of questions and challenges that makes it really fun being a founder, of course on top of all this don’t forget you need to:
One sentence that I read that I feel is interesting here is by Adam Gazzaley:
I would say to have no fear, I mean you’ve got one chance here to do amazing things, and being afraid of being wrong or making a mistake or fumbling is just not how you do something of impact
I hope this post showed you some of the non glamorous life of a being a founder.