A few years ago at one of the Startup Schools run by Y Combinator, Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston invited a few of the YC alumni to come up on stage after all of the speakers were done to share some startup advice and do a Q&A with the audience of potential founders. We were asked to spend a minute or so to share a small nugget of wisdom learned from our experiences.
I remember that we went down the line and all shared something. And I’m sure it was all useful, but I can not recall for the life of me what anyone said or even what I said myself. The only thing I remember and what I am sure anyone remembers from that Startup School vividly was Alexis Ohanian’s presentation:
The [Abridged] Story of Reddit.com (Or, how to build a popular website without ever being on TechCrunch.)
It was one of the funniest presentations I have ever seen. Alexis has perfect comedic timing and he had everyone in the audience rolling with laughter. It was a tongue-in-cheek whirlwind tour of what it was like working in their startup. It was not glamorous. It looked scary and even a little dirty. But god, they looked like they loved it. In the presentation they made light of themselves, their design, their investors and even the entire industry. As founders, they are perfectly postmodern. They know how fortunate and even ridiculous it seems to the world for a company like theirs to have such success (although I do believe they are one of the few companies that deserves to have a community that loves them so). Their story made no attempts at passing on lessons or advice and yet I feel like his presentation did more to convince the people in that room to start a company than any speaker that spoke that day.
Basically, Alexis reminded us how much fun you can have doing a startup. It’s an idea I rarely hear entrepreneurs speak about, but it’s crucial, especially to the longevity of your company. In the beginning, a startup is a pressure cooker. Everything feels so serious and so fatal that the temperature in the room always seems to be going up. Victories never seem to last as long as they should and problems pop up constantly and without end in sight.
A lot of people want big risk to feel a certain way : infinitely scary and infinitely difficult. And I understand that. I do. A startup is definitely those things, but I also think we might romanticize it a bit. I think we make the act bigger than it actually is and dress it up in a seriousness and gravity that it doesn’t really deserve. It might explain why so many are afraid to make the jump, even though, like most things in life, the mechanics and logistics are pretty mundane.
I think that if you’re not careful and that if you’re doing this solely for the money, that you’ll easily lose one of the few motivations that sustains anyone through anything difficult : love. I love what I do. I love my company and I love my users and while I am always working hard, I can say it rarely feels like it because I’m having so much fun. If I didn’t have that, I don’t see how I could have done any of this, at least not for this long. Anyway, I’m going to end with this: Don’t take yourself so seriously. A startup can and should be fun. It doesn’t have to be a 24/7 party in your pants fun, but you should at least be smiling a lot.