By: Samir Shah, Operating Partner
I ran a startup for ten years. As I look back on that time, I wonder if I had completely thought through how much responsibility I was taking on when I decided to start my own company.
This reflection is sparked by talking to entrepreneurs today, listening to their earnest pitches, and watching them execute the oh-so-important first couple of years. I hope that they are aware of how much responsibility they have taken on and in which areas. As a first time entrepreneur, nothing in your past really prepares you for this. Although founders are no stranger to responsibility, many have gone to college, worked for five-ten years, have families; those duties and obligations are quite different from what they will face founding and running a startup.
The sheer magnitude of responsibilities across these areas can leave one breathless.
To the product
As a founder, you have a responsibility to your vision and product. You have to build it right (not cut corners) and make the right technology decisions. You have to find the best technical and product talent to execute your vision, and give them the space and the freedom to innovate.
To your team
You have a responsibility to the folks on your team. It falls to you to create a company culture that features open communication, fosters innovation, and energizes employees to come to work each day. If someone on your team comes to you with feedback, it’s important to listen and do your best to incorporate it. Employees want to have a voice. It’s important to keep in mind how your decisions impact your employees and their families.
To your customers
You want to provide the best possible product and/or service to your customers and do it ethically. It’s extremely important to keep your word on the value you claim to deliver. For instance, if you claim that their data is safe with you, make sure it is. You never want to do anything that could potentially harm your customers. It’s also crucial that you listen to and carefully consider customer feedback.
To your investors
When interacting with your investors, it’s important to be honest and transparent; and show your strengths and vulnerabilities. You have to align with their goals while keeping yours in view, collectively increasing your enterprise value and running your company with a moral compass.
To your family
Include your family in the journey of starting a company, make them feel a part of the process. While it might mean some sacrifices, hopefully those sacrifices lead to something meaningful in the long run.
With that being said, you can’t expect your family to sacrifice everything, sometimes you have to remember to take a step back, keep their needs in mind, and live in the moment. One way to do that — keep a clear separation between work and home. Work hours are work hours; family time is family time.
And finally, to yourself
Take care of your personal self, both physically and emotionally. When things get difficult, and you question why you are putting yourself through all of this, stay the course, stay strong, and don’t feel defeated.
All of this is easier said than done. You will have your 3 am sweats wondering how everything has gone to heck, you will feel like you are on a perpetual emotional roller coaster, and the fear of failure will find a permanent place somewhere deep in your gut. But your conviction in yourself and your vision, your moral fortitude, and the strength you derive from your team, family, and friends will continue to steer you in the right direction as you take on the challenges that come along with being the founder of a startup.
So, if you are thinking of starting your own company, or are in the process of building one, take it from someone who has been in your shoes; it can be a crazy journey full of twists, turns, and gobs of responsibility. It is not only the responsibilities mentioned above, but also to your community, your country, and the environment (but that’s a conversation for another time).
And although it might feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world sometimes, it’s well worth it because there is no experience quite like it.