Yes, I look like a complete idiot in this photo.
Looking back at when I ran my education startup (2005 to 2012), I recall a lot of emotions and feelings. I remember existential stress, since from my perspective I was building a house of cards that could collapse at any moment (I was a little bit young and dramatic). I also remember exhaustion, as I poured everything I had into this startup; progress was always shaky and turbulent. I sacrificed health and relationships along the way.
But most vividly, I recall joy and purpose in running my startup.
My startup experience was weirdly spiritual. At the time I firmly believed that God had put me on earth to build the company I was building and serve the community I was serving. Despite all the stress and exhaustion, this underlying joy brought me tremendous peace, giving me strength push myself beyond what I imagined I was capable.
Ever since I became a dad a little less than 2 years ago, I’ve had to re-prioritize my life and lay dormant several side projects near and dear to me–one of which is this blog. Hence, why this is the first new post I’m writing in over a year.
Becoming a father has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. I still don’t enjoy the feeling of warm poo on my hand every now and then (not mine, but my son’s), and the sleep deprivation has been horrific. But at the same time, having a child is just like falling in love, all over again. At the end of the day, my wife and I have created a brand new best friend, and our lives are way more fun and interesting.
Right before my son arrived, I sort of went into this reactionary life mode. Pre-kid, I was winging my career as an entrepreneur; however the prospect of having a child made me believe that I needed to get a steady job and that my days as a risk-taking entrepreneur were over (at least until the kid’s in college).
So, I got a job. A great job in fact, working as a product manager at Facebook.
Photo credit: Unfinished Business movie stock image
Every week someone asks me for advice about a startup job offer. I have no idea why people reach out to me about this. I’m not an expert on job negotiation by any means; but I have done a fair amount of hiring and deal making as an entrepreneur.
This post relays the main advice that I typically share to friends considering their startup offer. Hopefully I can use this post to direct my job-hunting network and save myself some time typing this advice over and over again. 🙂
I’m super excited to announce that Hustle Con 2015 is officially happening on April 24, 2015 in San Francisco! This is an event for non-techies who are interested in starting startups, and it’s the third year we’re hosting this event.
So what is the point of our conference? Why do we exist when there are a gazillion other tech conferences?
Well, my team and I are on a mission to destroy a myth: that you need to be a techie in order to start a startup.
I meet so many would-be entrepreneurs every year who have awesome startup ideas, but are afraid. They make excuses like this:
I have a lot of friends who are startup founders. Lately whenever we meet up, I find myself sharing the same story with them; it’s about a car accident.
I can’t remember where I originally heard this story, but it stuck with me as an important metaphor for startup life. It goes something like this:
The gorge that nearly killed my wife two years ago.
It’s been over two years since my startup got acquired. People to this day ask me what I felt the moment this deal closed. Was it some feeling of satisfaction after bootstrapping my business for seven years? Was it elation in seeing a large wire transfer come into my bank account? Or maybe, was it validation from proving all my naysayers and competitors wrong?
Nope, I wasn’t thinking about any of that. The only thing I felt was gratitude. Not gratitude about my little startup achievement, but gratitude that my wife was actually alive.
What if you were born as this girl?
Not many people know that I am North Korean. Sort of.
My father was born in North Korea. The same day that he arrived to the world, his family had to flee to the South in order to escape the communists. The journey had to be taken on foot during the cover of night; naturally, it was extremely dangerous and risky. Capture could have meant death, or perhaps a life in a North Korean gulag.
At one point in the journey his family had to cross a river via a small boat. His mother was told that no noise could be made during the crossing. She was instructed to immediately drown her infant (my Dad) if he started to cry.
“Birthdays was the worst days, now I sip champagne when I’m thirstay…”
Hustler can mean a lot of things. For many people, it’s a pejorative term.
In the 1993 rap hit, “Juicy”, Biggie Smalls talks about how he was forced to hustle on the streets in order to support his baby daughter. So for some, a hustler is a criminal.
When I was in third grade playing soccer, my coach used to scream at me to show more hustle during practice because I was so lazy. This is my personal negative association with the term, of being forced to hustle at soccer practice when I could have been at home playing video games on Saturdays (I had different problems than Biggie).
But today I love the word hustler. In fact, it is one of the greatest compliments I can give to someone. In the startup world, a hustler is someone who doesn’t let fear get in her way. Even when she’s in over her head, lacking a certain skill or network, she puts her head down, learns what she needs to learn, and succeeds no matter what. This is a resourceful character trait that I look for in all people I want to do business with.
That’s all I could blurt out. I was at the ATM staring at my Chase business checking account balance and the number staring back at me was $500.
An $8,000 bill that my business owed was scheduled to post tomorrow. Earlier in the day, I hounded a client about a slightly late payment they owed for a big marketing campaign. The VP I spoke to curtly assured me that the payment would arrive the next day.
Running through the logistics in my head, the mailman arrived at my office every day around 3:00 PM. That gave me about two hours to collect the client check (assuming that it indeed would arrive) and deposit it in the bank. If the $8,000 bill posted at the end of the day, I’d be okay. If it posted earlier, then I’d now have to deal with a bounced check, which was sure to create headaches for the line of credit I had applied for at Chase…
Photo source: Wikipedia
Businesses take time to grow.
What I hate about Silicon Valley is that this ecosystem puts a lot of pressure on entrepreneurs to grow their companies at unnaturally fast speeds, across all dimensions: user acquisition, headcount, revenue, even expenses.
I’m not saying that growth is bad. But I do believe that more often than not, a slower and more deliberate pace of growth early on can set an entrepreneur up for success later on.
What is the root cause of this pre-mature growth pressure among founders? It’s investors. When you raise money, you buy into a rat race that compels you to show progress toward a huge ROI for your investors. Some investors are patient, but many are not and want to see fast returns on their investment in a startup, pressuring founders to raise more funds or take quick exits. The way to get to higher valuations fast for the investor is fast growth.
I chose to bootstrap my last startup because I didn’t want to deal with investor pressure. I wanted to grow organically, at a speed that I dictated.
Today I’m proud to say that my company pulls in substantial revenue and is highly profitable. But the earliest days were ridiculously modest in terms of performance. The following screenshot is my company’s actual Profit & Loss Statement from 2006. Keep in mind this is eighteen months after I started my startup: