TRC 018: 10 Uncomfortable truths for startup founders

founder experience Sep 14, 2023

Read time: 4 mins

I have been closely involved with starting and growing dozens of businesses over the last 20 years.

If you are going to start your own journey, it’s important to know what you might be letting yourself in for.

These are the most common uncomfortable truths that come up with founders time and again.

  1. Validation Can Be Misleading: Just because friends, family, or a few potential users love your product doesn't mean it will achieve widespread market fit. Find people you don’t know well to give you an unbiased opinion - ideally potential customers.
  2. Your Mental Health Will Be Tested: The stress, long hours, and rollercoaster of highs and lows can take a toll on your mental health. Taking care of yourself isn't just a good idea; it's essential for the longevity and success of your business. If you can’t look after yourself, you can’t look after your team or your business.
  3. Work-Life Balance is a Myth: Especially in the early stages, building a startup can consume all your time. Personal sacrifices are a given. There is always more important work to do than there is resource available.
  4. Hiring and Culture Are Crucial: Learning how to attract and retain the best people is the number one thing you can do to build a great business. But, many founders underestimate the importance of building a strong company culture and hiring the right people. Filling seats fast, rather than taking the time to find the individual who will genuinely make a difference. One wrong hire can significantly set back your progress.
  5. You'll Face Moral and Ethical Dilemmas: Whether it's about layoffs, negotiations, or partnerships, you'll encounter situations where the right choice might not be the easiest or most profitable one. Keeping your integrity may prove more challenging than you can imagine.
  6. If you don’t have control of your finances, no one does. You are responsible for you company's finances. Not your financial controller or accountant. Learn to read a profit and loss and balance sheet statement. If you don’t, you will be relying on blind luck to get you through.
  7. Not Everyone Will Share Your Vision: Whether it's potential investors, customers, or even your own team, not everyone will immediately see or believe in your vision. Conviction and persistence are key.
  8. It Will Take Longer and Cost More: We’ve all seen the stories of the founder that exits with $100m after 3 years. But they are such a tiny proportion it’s almost not measurable. No matter how well you've budgeted or planned, most startups take longer to reach profitability and require more capital than initially anticipated. And that’s from the small number that don’t fail in the first place.
  9. You will have to learn to sell: It may not be your sweet spot or your comfort zone, but sales is a crucial skill for every founder. Even if you aren’t the one selling to potential customers, you will be selling your company as a place to work, as a potential partner or to investors you want to give you capital. Better to start your practice sooner than later.
  10. It’s very lonely: You may have friends who are founders, but it’s unlikely you will be going through the same things at the same time. It will sometimes feel like you are surrounded by success as you are the only one struggling. Know those days are coming and that you just have to find a way to keep going.

These aren’t reasons not to do it (although they may be enough for some). But it’s always good to prepare yourself for the challenges that lie ahead.

Even if just so you know that they a normal part of the process that every founder will experience from time to time.


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