The Difficulty in Company Building

Starting a company is hard.

Technically that’s not true, it’s easy to start a company, it’s difficult to build an enduring one. So, let’s start there - It’s difficult to build an enduring company.

The success of a company is determined by one of three things, which is really one thing - Commitment:

  • A founders commitment/confidence in their abilities

  • A founders commitment to their partner

  • A founders commitment to the mission

In every single one of my major successes, these were the common traits at the beginning, here are a few examples:

Coinbase: Brian Armstrong had a *holy guacomole moment when he read Satoshi’s white paper. His mission from that moment on was to bring one financial infrastructure to the world, that was his mission. (Still is)

Amplitude: Spenser Skates and Curtis Liu were two friends from MIT who had won programming competitions and were insanely talented. Their original idea changed, the companies mission of the product changed, but the commitment to their friendship and each other never wavered.

This is L: Talia Frankel was a photo-journalist who identified an enormous problem for female care in Africa. This drove everything she did, as a solo-founder she worked on female care for years and when she sold to P&G was the fastest growing brand.

So success is determined by commitment. Where does the difficulty in building an enduring company come from?

Imagine for a second, you and your team are dropped in the middle of a desert. No water, no food, no compass, no “How to” manual. You know that you have X number of days before you will die of exhaustion. How do you keep your team energized, and up beat, building and headed in any direction? 

The founders are the ones who choose the path. The energy and trust comes from executing on that path. The fatigue comes from changing or moving the goal posts, or not know where the goal posts are.

In the first three years of a startup, a team shifts between two mental states: 

  1. You are executing a strategy

  2. You are figuring out what the strategy is to execute … (I call this wandering)

It’s perfectly ok to be in either state of building. The problems come from lack of decision making and momentum. Time is the enemy. The teams energy gets drained if there are no indicators of heading in the right direction, and if the leadership moves the goal posts too often, no one knows if they are executing towards a common goal.

In summary: I believe the difficulty of a startups doesn’t come from the hard problems that founders are trying to solve. It’s not about mental strength or mental endurance. It’s about being committed to a long term goal, and communicating where the company is at any given moment. It’s about making sure the team knows where you are in the mission.