How to Give Up

April 19, 2007

When starting a company it is important to know how to give up. A founder has to cultivate a certain amount of insulation to stimulus in order to keep going with an idea and make it successful. Starting a company is essentially an insane activity when you measure it by the standards of most people. It’s not insane to me because I enjoy a certain amount of risk, but in all start-up likelihood I will fail. However, the quality of the work I do sustains me, and of course there is always the chance that it will make me rich.

So if I have this determination, how do I let go of the proper things at the right moment, while not giving up? I cultivate a systematic view of my success. Very broadly, I am forming a company to make something which will create some change which will make me rich. By holding this view it has allowed me to get through the following problems.

First, we lost our initial third founder. He knew way more Ruby on Rails than I did at the time. I had gone through only one tutorial online and was making my way through another. I still felt pretty incompetent in the framework. So I could have given up, but I didn’t because I held this overall view of what I was doing.

Second, we didn’t get the funding we wanted. It would have been with very interesting and well-connected people. So now we were all going to have stick with some sort of part-time day job and labor in our spare time. This sucks. This makes you want to get a real job and just get payed. However, I’m making a company and this is an acceptable loss. As all things pass in time, so do new oppurtunities for money arise.

Third, our idea sucked. Bizzarely, this was the easiest one to get by. We had been working on it for quite some time. We now had something to show people. But as the image increased in resolution so did the flaws in the model. If you were looking at me as this dawned, you would have seen me typing at my computer in the garage. I sat my head on my hands and ruffled my brow for a moment. I got up, went into the other room and said the idea sucked and it wouldn’t work. And then I stated the next idea we working on. I was murdering a baby, but it turned out I didn’t love the baby enough to make me delusional, I loved the idea of the start-up more.

All of these have been fairly external issues, which is why they have been easy to deal with. The next was when my co-founders were feeling unappreciated. I live in the Bay Area and they wanted me to move down to San Luis Obispo (3 hours South) to live and hack with them. For various reasons that only became clear to me over time (perhaps another blog post), I was unable to. They interpreted this as me not wanting to share the work with them. Up till that point I did most of the work myself. But suddenly they took great offense and since I am working with good people, they expressed it to me. So we hashed things out and some of it’s still getting dealt with, but I hope it will be resolved. This is the first failure that has been directly my fault.

Interestingly, this problem has allowed me to understand how I defined the difference between a founder and an employee. A founder is driven entirely by his own initiative. That statement is obvious, but in the context of my own experience it means the other two founders should be going about their business automatically. They should rip the code out of my hands if they have to and start working on it (and it is my duty to let go). But they did not do this. Now I am sounding like I am shifting blame away from myself. It is still entirely my fault because of my failure to communicate what my expectations were. If that had been communicated it would likely have been a non-issue.

Undoubtedly, I will have more failures. There will be plenty of right and wrong things to give up on. I’m hoping that what leads to my success will be a comfort with failure.

One Response to “How to Give Up”

  1. Jeff Lindsay Says:

    Failure has become such a taboo, but it’s the only way to make actual development. You don’t learn through success, you only reaffirm what you already know. You learn through failure.

    Founder and entrepreneurs are idea people. Creative people. Their value isn’t in a single idea, but their ability to come up with many valuable ideas, take advantage what they have and fully execute the few best of them.

    Ideally, and this comes with failure/experience, you can work on something that really doesn’t take much effort, but has a huge impact. Figuring out what would have the most bang for buck. That’s hard and usually just sort of emerges on its own very organically, like Viaweb, Hotmail, Flickr, Twitter, and so many others.

    But a lot of the time that involves giving up on ideas, strategies, and as much as it sucks, people.

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