I’ve worked for the largest company in the world and the smallest (i.e. for myself), but I will tell you that starting a business is the most insane thing I’ve ever done. Here’s what I mean.
Making It Up
You think of something you would like to do or would like to see exist in the world, or better yet, you see a problem and have an idea how to fix it. You have no idea at all if this will work, if anyone will like it, use it, or pay their money for it, but you keep working on the idea anyway.
You make up a plan. Yes, you make it up – out of thin air. Then you make a deck out of this plan on your computer, which is just a series of 1’s and 0’s on a hard drive that triggers some light on your monitor. So, this grand plan of yours never actually exists. It just sits on a hard drive.
Your made up idea lives in some disembodied state out there “in the cloud” since it’s not really on your computer anyway.
Talking It Up
Then you do your first publically insane act. You start telling people about it. At first, you are very apologetic about it all because you know that you made it up. You know it only exists inside of your mind—which is now suspect—and you can access a document about it on your laptop. Over time, meaning after you’ve told everyone you know about it and then a bunch of complete strangers about it, you start actually believing in this madness.
If you don’t quit at this stage, you start convincing others that this is a good idea. People start telling you that they would work on this for you – for less money than they could make elsewhere! The insanity is like some kind of bacteria you pass from person to person shaking hands before a meeting. I’m convinced of this.
Then people tell you they will take some of their money and give it to you so you can make this non-existent idea that you are willing into existence through sheer force of will, too much coffee, a complete break with reality and the general infectiousness of the idea itself. They write you a check, it clears the bank and you sit there looking at this sum of money in your bank account.
And then the terror hits.
Growing It Up
If you think I am being dramatic, then you probably have not started anything before. Because once that money clears, you realize that this infection of insanity called your idea, your business has actually come alive. It is this small, fragile, embryonic thing that has been delivered prematurely into your hands. It’s now when you ask yourself one of the fundamental questions of life – can I do this?
The answer is a resounding one. At least it is for the people who ultimately succeed at keeping this thing alive. For them, they know way deep down in their bones that the answer is a resounding “no.” They cannot keep this thing alive on their own. They are going to need help. Lots and lots of help. People who are smarter, more creative, and more insightful than they are.
And your job changes immediately. You have two things to do now – keep it alive no matter what and find a team, a group, or an army of people who will fall in love with it and want to keep it alive. Because it is not an idea anymore. It exists. And it is not yours anymore. It is its own thing, and it will grow into something.
What it grows up into depends on everyone being aligned about the kind of business you are building. You have to be aligned about the mission, the vision and the values you are growing inside of your company. Because if you aren’t, then you are going to raise a monster, and it will kill you or someone on this team that was crazy enough to say yes to helping you raise it.
At the end of his life, Steve Jobs said that he was proud of the Mac, the iPod and then iPhone, but the thing he was proudest of was the company, Apple.
That’s always stuck with me, and as we now work to grow up SMACK, it is something we talk about often. What kind of company do we want to become?
Because when you bring something into existence; when you embark on this insane act of starting a company; and when it finally comes into existence, comes alive, it can either grow or die; and if it grows, then it is going to grow into something.
I think the core job of the person who started it all is to keep reminding everyone and to keep talking to everyone about what it will grow up to be.