Why we start up.

by Santosh

I have had much time and space to ponder on this question. I’ve spoken to, read about and heard several startup founders and entrepreneurs relate to me why they’ve started up the first time, second time and so on. I figure that awareness of these insights differentiate the first time from the second time. The essence of the drive itself remains more or less the same. 

A Sense of Mission. As a founder you believe you are out to change the world. Or, you have a desire to serve, create wealth multipliers, do good. Or, you just have an idea that you’ve been given and you want to work on it. Each and all of these missions are noble, onerous journeys for one person. As ventures go, this is also what will set you apart from other entrepreneurs who’ve built up and paused when they’ve got a sizable self-owned business.

Considering this ideal, failures are now integral milestones of your journey and you will encounter them when you least expect to. That is also when your sense of mission will begin to crystallize. The clearest I’ve sensed, is a drive to outgrow me. For some getting to this point could be instantaneous, or a long painstaking inquiry of oneself, or both. Whatever the path, once there, simply don’t let go of that direction of inquiry.

We’ve all been through it. Perhaps you’ve been through the ups and downs of the journey to create a venture. Perhaps you’ve held a job, or seen near and dear ones hold jobs, or be entrepreneurial for a life time. You’ve asked yourself how will things work out for me? How can I hack into society’s regulation that adult work-life can’t be enjoyable, meaningful, or better integrated with our holistic sense of life? How can this person grow?

Why is growth on a job not the same? A friend I co-wrote this essay with likened succeeding in a job to building character the same as a skyscraper. You can grow lean, tall and reach far up to the skies and when you are done growing as much as you can, you can feel the wind blow past your face. That’d be a wonderful place to be.

On the other hand, as a founder your aim is to grow as one would build a dam that takes on tons of pressure to convert it into energy quietly. They need to be solid, wide and thick. When you bring on board a founder you can be sure that he brings with him relationships he has nurtured, true insights learned from past struggles, a wholeness of who he is and isn’t.

Danger lurks when founders try to grow too quickly, or try to be skyscrapers. There are many things that can trigger that departure, including the perception of an easy rise, or the glamour of easy money. I’m convinced that this misunderstood perception is what underlies many premature burnouts.

A Sense of Necessity or Survival. The other day I stopped by my favorite Men’s salon to get my haircut. The doors were shut and an ‘under renovation’ sign had been posted on the door. Disappointed, I began to walk away. I was approached by someone who I recognized worked at the salon. He asked me if I was going to the salon? I replied that yes I was. He replied that it had been shut for several months. The frustrated employees had decided not to wait for the management to act and had gotten started on their own a few blocks down the road. Would I be interested in going with them instead? The stylist was the same and apart from the brand and location, nothing had changed. Without hesitation I took him up on his offer.

Lesson learned, we get started because it is in our nature to step up.

So what’s more important? Mission or necessity? Or both?

I know what it is like to wind down a working venture, I’ve been a sounding board for other founders who’ve been caught up between the choice – should they keep going, or close? If a way to break even, to stay afloat, to scale up can’t be uncovered – then what? At that point, opportunity costs are questioned to help make it easier to ignore the other burning question – Can something be done?

I know I’ll need to come back to this one to finally learn how they work together. An idealist to the core, I believe that the need to survive tempers the missionary. I figure from observing others that the only way to make success and failure irrelevant is to get out of the way and let survival be the seed for creativity and endurance. Then you are playing to reveal that which lasts, the mission that matters. Then you are playing from your heart.