How to Find Minimum Viable Happiness

“I know that someday my startup can achieve all of my life dreams and make me happy (right?). But right now everything is a mess and I feel like crap. What can I do get my head around some goals that can get me fired up again to press on?"

December 1st, 2021   |    By: Wil Schroter

What's the least we need as Founders to be happy?

For as much time as we invest in building our startups to achieve our goals, we spend shockingly little time in identifying what those goals actually mean. The danger in not defining our minimum viable happiness goals is that we wind up hoping to "find happiness" but never really defining how to get there.

And that's a pretty big problem when we're in the early stages of building a startup when very little helps fill our "happiness meter."

It's easy to make big, lofty, far away goals, but frankly, that's pretty useless right now. What we need to do is identify the shortest term, minimum goals that will make us happy so that we do everything in our power to get there as quickly as possible.

We Need Safety

It's nearly impossible to achieve any level of happiness without safety. Safety is knowing that even though things aren't necessarily going great, we'll still be OK. We'll be fed, sheltered, and healthy. We may be eating Ramen noodles while living in our parents’ basement (in this scenario our parents won't feed us anything but Ramen) and probably out of shape, but we'll be safe enough to continue fighting.

We love to screw this one up. We say dumb shit like "I need $10 million in the bank to feel safe!" which is true — we'll totally feel safe. But that's a long way away, and that's not going to help us right now.

A more practical goal would be "So long as I can pay myself $5k per month my rent, food, and basic bills will be covered. I won't be living big, but I will be continually safe. If I can get to that goal, I'm good." Recognizing that safety is an achievable goal, and more importantly recognizing that we are safe, is super important.

We Need Validation

It's also difficult to feel "happy" while also feeling invalidated. We all get our validation in different ways, although the two most common places come from our jobs and our relationships. Our startups have such a profound impact on our validation because they feel like an extension of ourselves. Of course, that's our ego talking, but let's not compartmentalize our ego as something to be ignored. It matters.

Very few Founders take the time to truly define and isolate their source of validation. We come up with broad, amorphous goals like "When I sell for $100 million I'll be validated!" which is a shitty validation goal because it's too far away and it's very unlikely from a statistical standpoint.

Instead, we need near-term validation goals to help drive our happiness. "When we get to $10k of monthly recurring revenue, that's my minimum goal for validation." Does that mean we're done? Of course not. It means we're tying our need for validation to a goal that matters, is within reach, and we can build upon it. The alternative is never getting to any point of validation, which is a dangerous place psychologically.

We Need Pride

Similar to how validation supports our ego, pride refuels a precious resource — our optimism. Our optimism in the face of that insane void we all face is the only way we can press on. When do things we're proud of, that drives us to want to do more of it, and by way of that, fuels our happiness.

Conversely, when we fail or feel ashamed of our performance, it depletes our optimism and happiness which for a startup, is very dangerous. We can achieve pride, not through huge milestones like a funding round or a revenue milestone, but in the pride we get from our work.

Pride is about the customer we helped, or the product we shipped, or how we did right by our staff. Similar to validation though, we need to define what drives pride. For example — "My pride comes from shipping great products." While broad, that helps us recenter our focus so that we know where to refill that bucket of pride. We know that every time we ship, we feel happy. That cycle compounds over and over.

Minimum Viable Happiness only works when we take the time to isolate and focus our goals around what truly drives happiness in the near term. When we leave those goals undefined, we're constantly searching through that black hole of being OK without ever truly getting there. It's there if we look for it.

In Case You Missed It

Overwhelmed (podcast) Startups are often portrayed as a go big or go home affair, and as Founders, it's easy to get caught up chasing monumental goals and forget about the daily actions that will actually get us there.

What Happens After I've Made It? We always dream about our startups making it big. But what happens when they really do? What happens when all of the risks actually turn into the payouts we had always hoped for? Are we actually happier?

Growth Isn’t Always Good. In many cases, our focus on growth runs counter to what our goals really should be: becoming a better startup — not just a bigger one.


About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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