Considerations for would-be founders

One of the biggest reasons startups fail is that the founders give up. Sometimes that happens because the idea didn’t turn out to be strong enough, in which case “c’est la vie”, but sometimes it happens because the entrepreneur wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the journey, and in that case it’s a crying shame.

The following quotes are from an answer I just read on a Quora answer from Justine Musk which sets out what it takes to be extremely successful (which is the goal for VC backed startups).

First the warning:

Extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things. Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider ‘success’, so know that you don’t have to be Richard [Branson] or Elon [Musk, no relation] to be affluent and accomplished and maintain a great lifestyle. Your odds of happiness are better that way. But if you’re extreme, you must be what you are

Then the need for a mission or cause to sustain both you and the company:

It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you  (and make no mistake, you will need them). That ‘something bigger’ prevents you from going off into the ether when people flock round you and tell you how fabulous you are when you aren’t and how great your stuff is when it isn’t. Don’t pursue something because you “want to be great”. Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an *insane* work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Then the advice to take care of yourself mentally and physically (this is an area of huge importance where investors could do much more than they are today – something we are thinking hard about):

It helps to have superhuman energy and stamina. If you are not blessed with godlike genetics, then make it a point to get into the best shape possible. There will be jet lag, mental fatigue, bouts of hard partying, loneliness, pointless meetings, major setbacks, family drama, issues with the Significant Other you rarely see, dark nights of the soul, people who bore and annoy you, little sleep, less sleep than that. Keep your body sharp to keep your mind sharp. It pays off.

Learn to handle a level of stress that would break most people.

I’m posting all this mostly because it brings out how tough it is to be an entrepreneur. The support ecosystems are improving, in part due to firms like us focusing squarely on how best to support success as well as pick winners, but the journey remains difficult and it’s much better to go into that eyes open than to start and then discover you have embarked on a challenge you wouldn’t have begun if you knew more at the outset.