Just not as fast as we want

“Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game. Startups are hard, but they can also go from difficult to great incredibly quickly. You just need to survive long enough and keep going so you can create your 52nd game.”
–Chris Dixon, The myth of the overnight success

One of the great joys of working with startups is the opportunity to meet so many amazing people. I don’t mean running into people at Meetups – but seeing the arc of people’s lives in the entrepreneurial journey.
The soaring highs – the days when we feel like we’re on top of the world. And the dark, dark lows when we’re wondering, “what am I doing with me life”?

Starting a business is one of the hardest challenges of our lives. Successfully building a product company? Well, that’s one of the hardest things to do in the world. Don’t let the startup entertainment industry fool you – it is brutally, brutally tough.

Patterns

A benefit of seeing ups and downs is being able to spot the larger patterns, the early signs of success.

Oh, sure, sometimes it is obvious – anyone can see Instagram or Snapchat riding a massive new wave and see great things are in store.

The interesting patterns are those that take 10 years to learn, the accumulation of thousands of hours of meetings … emails … toasts celebrating the latest round of funding … and sad moments watching an unethical co-founder destroy value for everyone.

I’m going to share one with you now. A single sentence I hear from startup founders that tells me they are on the path to some degree of success. Here it is:

“Things are steadily getting better, just not as fast as we want”

I’ve thought a lot about this sentence. The times of heard it … said it myself. What I love about this sentence is that you don’t read it in TechCrunch. Or hear it from someone “meeting for coffee to talk about an idea.”

Usually it takes a year before a founder even utters this sentence, and it tells me a few things about the team. Let’s break it down …

steadily

People who use this word are not looking for a quick-fix, the latest growth hack to give them instant success. They’re working hard every day, making slow, incremental improvements that have amazing compound benefits in the long run.

getting better

These words tell me that a founding team has perspective. They KNOW the product was lousy 6 months ago. They KNOW their first marketing message didn’t resonate. They’re looking at data, talking to customers. They’re being Lean and not believing their own b.s.

just not as fast as we want

A team who says this isn’t satisfied. They’re hungry for the next level, searching for a better way. Determined to get to break-even. Fighting like crazy to meet their metrics for the month.

This is what future success looks like

Everyone I know who has been successful at anything has uttered this sentence. I can’t think of a single exception – it is one of the patterns I look for as an investor.

You can probably guess the anti-patterns:

“We’re killing it, just hired our 5th employee and had our best month!”
“Things are going ok, I guess.”
“Well I’ve got a new idea …”

So stop being so hard on yourself 🙂

Slow, steady progress is as good as it gets in this business. When you get frustrated, take a moment to think back to 6 months ago. Think of all you’ve learned, all you’ve created.

And imagine being the product manager at Rovio who just launched her 51st game.

She probably felt just like you do now.


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Photo credit: Pete

One Comment

  1. bebraw December 5, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Incidentally it’s not looking particularly good for Rovio at the moment. Revenue isn’t growing and they were barely profitable in 2014. It’s going to be interesting to see how the situation develops.

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