Do You Want to Be Fired?

The Agony and Ecstasy of Startups

“In a startup, isn’t there a part of you that wants to be fired?” asked my good friend I’ll call Roger. I’ll never forget this conversation. I convinced Roger to become part of a well-funded startup. He had a passion for their market. He was captured by the problem they were working to solve, and he loved the product idea which would solve it.

He was a perfect fit.

As you would expect, he took an income hit on the way in hoping his stock options would make up for it. Over the years, he became a key player on the team. He was moved from function to function, from producer to manager, from sales to creator. He became the guy who knew the business as well as the founder.

A tough guy to replace.

The business didn’t take off like everyone thought it would. It was a disappointment to the founder, the investors, and the key employees. In spite of missing the hockey stick projections, it is still a good business. But now my friend wants to get paid market rates with increased equity. This makes for tension-filled discussions. He keeps pressing, and the founder keeps pushing back.

Not fun for anyone.

That’s why I asked him the question, “Are you afraid you’ll be fired?”

At some point, someone has to call it. The tension-filled conversation becomes detrimental to the business. The key employee’s discontent is so great that he begins looking for another opportunity. Or the founder comes to the conclusion he just can’t make the key employee happy and tells him to leave.

That’s when my friend answered with this question, “In a startup, isn’t there a part of you that wants to be fired?”

This hit home with me.

I have had this feeling as a key employee, an entrepreneur, and an investor. There is always a part of me that wants out. It’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

There was a show called the Wide World of Sports. It had a 30-second video which highlighted the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. (YouTube)

This is what being in a startup is all about. We work hard to achieve that thrill of victory. For some, it is raising money at increasing valuations. For others, it is seeing sales increase geometrically.

In the end, it really is about seeing the founder’s vision become a reality, but all of this takes years of working every day at the basics of creating, selling, and serving.

So why do we all have this little secret of wanting it to end?

It is tiring.

We joined because the vision captured us. But visions take years and years to become realities. And most of the time our estimates are way wrong. The bar keeps moving further and further out.

It is hard. We join startups knowing the plan in place to achieve greatness will work. But then it doesn’t work. And neither does the next one or the next one. We keep going and continue to work hard, knowing that the new plan we are working will be the one. We hope.

It is all-consuming.

The founder and key people are all owned by the startup. Every moment of every day, we are thinking about the big problem we are working to solve. We just can’t give up. We are constantly looking for that right answer which will result in the hockey stick sales and the team that integrates and executes flawlessly. We give up our time, our mindshare, and our families to get there. We sacrifice big time.

You are not alone.

We all have this terrible little secret inside us. We want to be set free from this thing, this problem, this startup. But we know we can’t. If we do, we are declaring defeat. We will stop running. Stop competing. Stop chasing victory. By quitting, we are making the public claim we are defeated.

There is no easy way out.

As Churchill said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never.” YouTube

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