This story is making the rounds on the Internet. It’s about a couple of startup founders in Chicago who got half a million dollars seed funding to start a business that promised “to give busy locals an easy way to teach or take specialty classes on subjects ranging from introductory pottery to using data-visualization tools.”
Fast forward two years later, and they’re out of money, and no one wants to give them more. In a last-ditch attempt to make sense of the situation, they’ve started a Tumblr-esque website called 30 Days of Honesty, where they are opening up behind the scenes and giving full transparency about their situation, even asking customers and visitors to the site for advice.
I’ll be honest: my first reaction to all of this was nothing short of rage. You got half a million dollars to make it work, and now you want us to feel sorry for you because you couldn’t make it work? Give me a break, I thought out loud.
Owning a business is the hardest thing most people will do – right up there with raising a child and solving world peace. You’ll get sympathy from those folks in the trenches with you, but at some point, you have roll up your sleeves and march on.
I read through some of the posts about their 30 days of honesty, and I wasn’t understanding the full picture. They’re making sales, and getting tons of good feedback in the process – how did they get this far along and still end up in such a precarious position?
In hindsight, my gut reaction was a bit selfish. Every startup is on its own journey, so it’s not right for me to judge – I wasn’t there along the way, so who knows what critical points of the story that Mashable left out of their writeup?
I also think my knee-jerk reaction was because a lot of the statements in their posts struck too close to home. “Not paying people their worth,” “how long can I continue,” “it’s scary” are all things I have said, and heard other business owners say as well.
And then the sadness washed over me.
… I was sad that no one offered them the help and support they needed long before they got to the “30 days or die” point.
… I was sad that so many entrepreneurs think that climbing the venture capital ladder is the only way to build a business.
… I was sad that these founders didn’t think to try honesty on day one of their startup.
If you are a startup founder, I want to give you some advice that my good friend Charlie Gilkey gave me.
You’ve got this. I know that you’ve solved problems that were a lot harder.
Whether you call it a startup or a business, owning anything that involves employees, customers and money is really damn hard.
Sometimes, those difficulties will try and crush you. I know this pain, I know it very well. The psychological price of entrepreneurship is expensive.
Sometimes, you lose the battle and win the war.
Sometimes, you lose the war.
Sometimes, you fight the wrong war.
Just know that you are the only person who will be able to figure out the difference. Have lots and lots of conversations with your customers, with your employees, with your peers and mentors, and then do the best you can. That is all you can do.
And know that you are not alone.