Personalities and Startups

So after wondering about the sustainability of startups in San Francisco, another common theme was culture, morale and some of the more human side of starting a company.

The most straightforward about this was Danae Ringelmann, the founder of Indiegogo. One of her points that stuck with me the most was about building culture - that culture happens while a company is starting no matter what. Founders need to make time to nurture culture, or otherwise it grows in a way that might not be what you expect.

A part of that was finding "the why" for your company - knowing what problem is your startup looking to solve and why. Getting a good why will help you find good cofounders, good employees, and will help you not focus on how to solve the problem, but what it is you're trying to do. She mentioned how she was able to pivot an early idea that wasn't doing so well because she could stay focused on the core why for Indiegogo, which was to democratize funding. Focusing on the why helped her stay motivated and helped get good people to be motivated with her.

A couple of the other speakers talked a bit about this too - about dealing with ideas that just don't work. One side of this is staying motivated despite naysayers - basically, go into conversations about your startup knowing that no one else is motivated to think your solution will work, so you will need to be your own advocate. People saying ideas won't work are generally right, so it's a very reinforcing behavior.

The other side of that is admitting to yourself and your team when an idea isn't working. Ron Conway, talking about this, said the team knows when an idea isn't working. Founders often don't want to address it, thinking morale will go down. But when they just admit it, get it out in the open, the opposite happens - people are relieved that everyone's on the same page, and the team can figure out what to do to move forward.

Another part of diversity is getting other points of view involved will help you grow your product in ways the founder maybe wouldn't think was important. Mark Zuckerberg is not a gamer, so he never built out the games part of Facebook, which lost the company a very valuable opportunity it had to incorporate later. If you know about the industry, you don't check your assumptions enough, and you don't know what you don't know.

Anyway, this sat in my drafts folder for months and I just need to publish it and get it out there. My takeaway is startup school was very educational, but maybe not in the way you might think. I didn't come at it looking to be a sponge and I don't think you should either. Soaking up all the advice given at Startup school would be like trying to soak up all the whatever is on the floor of a BART station. You should go, listen and learn, but know what to listen to, know what the expectations of people will be of you in a startup, and then decide how to move forward and who you would want to work with you. Ron Conway is never going to come knocking at my door, but if he ever did, I'd tell him the price of his "free" investment money is way too high.