I am a veteran of the startup wars. I was on the front lines of the PC revolution in the 1980’s, fought in the multimedia skirmishes in the 1990’s, and commanded fearless troops in the first Internet invasion. I have been in more startup battles than I can count, some on the losing side. Every battle was won or lost by people, not by the weapons at our disposal (technology or money). I learned how to choose who I would risk my reputation and financial life for:
1. Our cause is not your job, it’s your life and an extension of who you are. You are all in, you can’t see yourself doing anything else. You could be working less and making more money as a mercenary (consultant) or captain (manager) of another cause, but you truly believe our cause is where you will make your mark.
2. You are always on the clock. The battle is 24/7 and it is often a race against time. You know the enemy does not sleep. You’re usually too excited to sleep, can’t wait to engage the enemy and make their bounty (customers and employees) ours. I get calls and emails from you after working hours. When I text you an idea in the middle of the night, I am never surprised to get an immediate reply.
3. No task is too small, no mission unimportant to you. You do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether you like the task or not. You are not concerned about titles or lines of responsibility and authority. When you don’t know how to do something, you figure it out and ask me for help when you need it.
4. You are curious as hell, always learning, always trying to get better. You make me better…smarter. You don’t horde information, creativity or insight. You share it with everyone on our team, push us to apply it quickly to advance our cause. Even with your considerable knowledge and domain expertise, you never think you have all the answers. You advocate for your pov passionately, challenge us to prove you wrong, and graciously adapt someone else’s pov if it is the will of the majority.
5. You are consumed by the righteousness of our cause, emboldened by the value proposition it offers the world, but never blind to its flaws and limitations. You know we must constantly make it better. But not better in the way we might want it to be better, but by how well it meets the needs and expectations of the people we are fighting for.
6. When it’s time to launch, you are on the front lines leading the charge, even though we are hopelessly outmanned and outgunned. You are proud when we capture a little territory, but will not rest until we control the continent, not content until we dominate the world. You measure success by whether we are winning the battle, not by how many parades and applause we get for waging it.
7. Our cause would die before you would quit.
May you pick your startup battles carefully…and the people you ride into battle with even more so.