May 19, 2020

Being Honest With Yourself (when things aren't going well)

I really wanted to be a founder of a successful startup (where successful to me means the company can pay its own bills, and pay employees well). However the reality hasn’t matched my ambition and I’ve decided to find a job like a regular chump.

I assumed that with work ethic, skills, persistence, and plenty of trial and error I could eventually find success. That hasn’t happened, and I’m nowhere close to making that happen. Being good at computers and working hard doesn’t cut it.

The truth is, to be successful, you need 2 things: luck and connections. Connections are the piece I lack, as I’m naturally bad at relationships. Nobody has invited me to any VC happy hours.

False Hope

On raising money: Early on in my wantprepreneur journey I assumed it would be easy to raise money. I’ve heard that people are clamouring to invest in people like myself. In practice, however, I found that not to be the case. VCs would ghost me, and after sending hundreds of emails I realized you can’t email your way into a meeting.

VCs want you to keep grinding away, and they will wait until they have no choice to invest. No one wants to be the first to invest. They also don’t want to invest in unknowns. The VC model works best when there’s perception of success (actual success doesn’t matter, VCs make money whether companies succeed or fail).

On finding product market fit: There’s a lot of mythos surrounding the elusive “product market fit”, but one thing I’ve learned from my years working in computers is that you can’t really get there unless you a) have a lot of resources and b) are really good at marketing.

On building great products: It doesn’t matter how great your product is if nobody knows about it. A lot of enterprise software companies have bigger marketing and sales departments than engineering because at the end of the day sales and marketing matter more than the quality of the product.

Feeling Hopeless

Scrolling through my LinkedIn feed I can see how a number of my former colleagues have managed to go out and raise large amounts of venture capital. I’ll admit, I’m resentful, but I’m also happy for them.

I know what I’m good at: building products, getting shit done, shipping code, making things happen. You’d think those are the things that matter when it comes to building a startup, but the truth is that those things are only secondary. The most important thing is being able to convince people that you can do these things (or find people who can), and also being able to get the attention of people who either want your product or want to invest.

What’s Next?

For me at least, I’ll stick to what I’m good at in the mean time, and let someone else deal with the fundraising and marketing. I think for anyone like me, you’re more likely to succeed by joining an existing startup and working your way up from there.


© 2020 Brenden Matthews, some rights reserved.