Failure in the startup world can seem like an inevitable milestone, with nine out of 10 startups ending in failure. For many entrepreneurs, it is a harsh but necessary lesson to learn, and a particularly tough journey to live through. In this thought leadership piece, one UAE-based founder who wished to remain anonymous, explains the hardships they faced when their startup failed.
This almost feels like one of those AA meetings, everyone here has an addiction. But it has nothing to do with drugs or alcohol, it is an addiction to a relentless feeling of being able to build something better than someone else.
“Hi, I’m Damian and I am an entrepreneur.”
Everyone has a drug of choice; may it be AI, fintech, edtech, data… the options are endless. We all jump in blindly because entrepreneurship and the startup world are glorified and romanticised.
We think we will become instant millionaires.
Our own bosses.
And have an unchecked amount of clout.
No one told me the truth before all of this started. So, to all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there, this is my truth to you. Don’t think of this as a deterrent but more so the fine print in the terms and conditions of becoming an innovator. A disruptor. An entrepreneur.
My story began over four years ago when I could no longer stand the corporate world and felt capable of doing something on my own.
So I jumped.
I left a high paying job in the Gulf to a nominal salary of zero. Before jumping, you need to be ready to step into a world of endless financial instability. The uncertainty of where your next paycheck will come from, if it will cover your basic needs and all the pitfalls associated with it.
I took my corporate paycheck for granted. The constant expectation that on the 25th of that month, you get a text from your bank saying that your salary has been deposited which then gets uncomfortably replaced with an unwanted conversation with your co-founder/employees that you can’t pay salaries this month (or even the next).
Our first advisor used to ask our potential employees one question “do you have at least one-year salary saved up?” If they said no, that was the end of the conversation. Wise words, a little too late for me.
You start seeing your friends around you enjoying life. You start becoming a hermit. A life of saying no to a lot of different things. Digging yourself deeper into a hole only to discover who your true friends are, and in some cases, your true love (corny I know but that “through thick or thin” statement really rings true).
To be a “true” entrepreneur, you also begin to read/subscribe to blogs on medium and articles on TechCrunch, Inc., Entrepreneur to name a few. Never do any of the articles actually talk about failure or even so what all this does to your emotional stability. I came into my startup with the same excitement and passion as the rest of you. We know we built a great thing, we even started to win awards and the media publicity was great. But nothing prepares you for your first no and the subsequent noes.
There was this one post on Medium which talked about the state of depression this one entrepreneur went into. But just like everything else in life, you think you’re invincible. I sit here writing this to you with a prescription for anxiety and depression. This is real and what you are going to put yourself through is very real. The life of a hermit, the life of saying no, the life of hearing no’s all begins to take a toll on you and will affect your health. There are side effects to entrepreneurship; some may experience sleepless nights, loss of appetite, impatience, etc…
My biggest fault was that I internalised everything and defined success incorrectly. So, who defines success? You know on the first day of our startup we were asked what our exit strategy was. We hadn’t even started, and people wanted to know how we were going to finish. Was success defined publicly by raising millions in your Series A? Exiting to a company in the West? We obviously know what the media likes to write about, but is that your success? You need to define your own success. A quote that resonated with me was “a billionaire is not a person who has a billion dollars but more so someone that has changed a billion lives.” We knew we had the product to do that, but we didn’t set up milestones (quick wins) along the way.
Your first customer, the first time they used your product twice, the organic leads. Don’t ever take any of those for granted. Relish in those negative reviews; they write them because they believe in your product enough to write something cause they want it to be better. Once you begin to focus on you, on your wins, on the product and blur out the rest… everything will slowly fall into place. Just know one thing, your success is not tied into your company’s success. If the company fails, it does not mean that you failed or that you are a failure. You tried something millions of others were not able to do. You may not see it now (to this day, sometimes I don’t) but you will.
So, this story could have gone in two directions; positive or negative. One implies that everything fell into place and the above was reminiscent of a time passed or the total opposite.
Chicken vs. the egg dilemma.
Disintegration of working relationship.
Let’s not define this as failure but more so your acceptance and knowing when to move on and not regret anything. You should, or will become, mature enough to see the silver lining in the rollercoaster experience you put yourself through. The peaks of potentially generating millions in revenue to the troughs of the third failed acquisition offer. You will have the odds stacked against you in a copy-cat ecosystem that questions innovation and overly charges you for your existence.
“Fail mindfully. Be aware of the lessons learned. And be aware of the responsibility to share those learnings with the world.” - Leticia Gasca
So, do you accept these terms and conditions?