No Excuses

If you made the jump into startup land then you should also swallow the ownership pill and remove excuses from your vocabulary.

The traditional founder’s mindset is about discovery. Not excuses. Finding a way to climb a mountain against all extremities. Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn said it well:

“Entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down.”

Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Founder, VC Partner at Greylock

Whether it’s going up or down a mountain, the direction and terrain pose a new set of challenges which you’ll be tested against resilience, adaptation and performance. Having full ownership without excuses helps you move the needle.

Corporate Ladder of Responsibility

Traditionally the corporate ladder approach carves out a piece of the pie for you to own. Your role. Your responsibility. This means your career is a set of steps on narrowly defined outcomes in a big machine. You use your skills to make sure the gears are greased and running well.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Some like it and others do not.

It’s human nature to fall into a common pattern. It gives us peace of mind. It’s safe because it is predictable.

I used to work for Australia’s largest financial services company (AMP Ltd) and loved it. There I got to work across many business units in an architectural role. Horizontally not vertically stacked. A rare opportunity. There I saw folks working narrowly focused jobs and also those horizontally. There I also gained vision for what I wanted to do in life.

Startup Life

After AMP, I joined a startup; and it was the change I needed.

“The Devil is in the Detail.”

Drilled into me during my 1st startup

As an early stage founder, you are the janitor. Jack of all trades. You will be called to mission by your inner voice for everything from coding to product to sales to marketing to QA. You name it you are going to do it. If you are missing that inner voice then you might want to reconsider your dedication as a startup founder.

Traditionally when you needed some marketing help you’d email/walk over to marketing and have them own it. As an early stage founder you may not even have a marketing department. Does that mean you throw you hands up into the air and:

(a) pray for a miracle,
(b) hope the problem goes away or your peer/investor forgets, or
(c) roll up your sleeves and get shit done.

The answer is obvious for those who get this but not so for a lot of folks who want to have the founder/ceo title minus the responsibility. This is more common than you think.

Time is not on your side. Neither is lack of skills when other more qualified teams are competing for your customers, and even venture capital.

A Mentality Shift

Being a founder of your own business is a fundamental shift in mentality. No more excuses. Only results matter.

In my experience, it’s similar to the transition one makes going from high school to university. In high school your teacher will push you to complete work, remind your of your responsibilities and they may enforce it with detention or a meeting with your parents. At university you are now a lone ranger. Destined for greatness or a miserable failure. Do you have the discipline to get up each morning and get stuff done or do you prefer to cruise and sink back to your parents basement. Decisions decisions…

Startups are like that too. You have to push yourself to excel and perform above and beyond. You are also now responsible for many moving pieces of the machine. Not just the cog. From building a product to selling it to building a business with employees who you’ll lead and inspire so they can follow you on the yellow brick road to the emerald city.

Founder Mindset

A founder is typically jack of all trades and expert of none. This poses an interesting set of challenges as a never ending broad set of work has to be done and sometimes new skills acquired or sharpened in little time.

This mindset reminds me of Peter Thiel’s; 0 to 1.

0 to 1 is hard. You are going from practically an idea to a product that turns into a business. As a founder you need to get the wheels moving and keep them moving, even during uncertain times when information is sparse.

Many great businesses were started during such uncertain times. Take the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and global financial crisis. Just to name a few, it started;

  • WhatsApp -Jan Koum and Brian Acton
  • AirBnB – Brian Chesky et al.
  • Uber – Travis Kalanick et al.

The financial crisis was a surprisingly fertile period for unicorn and unicorn-ish companies. Instead of running away with excuses of a bad economy or a pandemic, these founders saw a calling and pushed on during uncertain times.

When the current tough times are bad, the future good times are great.

That’s ownership right there.

No excuses.

They didn’t wait until times were great to raise money so they could build something. They invested sweat capital (their own time) to solve problems, learn something and then own it like a boss.

There are no excuses when a founder takes full ownership. Be that founder.

Author: Ernest W. Semerda

Aussie in Silicon Valley. Veryfi CoFounder (#YC W17 cohort). GSDfaster Founder. View all posts by Ernest W. Semerda

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