Being a startup shouldn't be a goal, it should be a milestone we're doing everything to get beyond.
As it happens, a "startup" is just the formative years of our existence. And while the term itself is rife with excitement, it really masks our true ambition which is to become a plain ol' "company" without the "startup" in front of it.
It's perfectly fine for us to revel in our startup years, but in the back of our minds, as Founders, we should be thinking "How quickly can I stop being a startup?" and work our tails off to drop that title as soon as possible.
To be fair, being labeled a "startup" is sexy as hell at first. We're associated with wildly important terms like "growth," "opportunity," and "big outcomes." Who wouldn't want that?
It gives us the pixie dust we need to attract capital, talent, and media attention. It also gives us a baked-in excuse to not have any revenue, a product that is fully formed, or market validation. We can boldly exclaim "Of course, we don't have any of that, we're a startup!"
Frankly, we're blessed that any of that exists, because without the pixie dust of the word "startup", we'd just sound totally insane trying to ask anyone for, well, anything.
All of that initial energy and optimism only last so long though. At some point, our big dreams need to be backed up with big revenue. While we can convince some people to work for equity for a little while, that shit gets really old, really fast. Optimism, as it happens, doesn't pay for rent.
At that point, we need to get out of being a startup as fast as possible. We've already told everyone what this company could be, now we need to shut up and make it actually happen. And that's where we separate the dreamers from the doers.
It turns out that for all of our optimism, very few of us (statistically) can actually make that transition. It's not always of our own doing, as sometimes we're in the wrong place at the wrong time. In other cases what we thought could be a huge opportunity was just a small business, which is OK, unless we've just raised $20 million to find that out.
For the very few of us who have made it through the startup gauntlet and can confidently say we're a "viable company," we should be bragging about that. Bragging about being a startup is like bragging about being a freshman in high school. The goal isn't to start school, it's to finish it.
We should brag about how employees will actually get paid. We should brag about how we've built something customers clearly want. We should brag about how we know exactly what our future holds. If that doesn't sound appealing, try living through a startup that doesn't have any of that.
That's not to say that being a startup isn't great — it is. I'm obviously biased on the term as I run a company that's called "Startups.com" but we're also not a startup ourselves. We were an idea at one point, but now we're a proven business with revenue, profits, and hundreds of employees that don't have to wonder about what will happen to us! But we revel in the fact that long before all of that, were in fact a startup, and the term served us well. So long as we were willing to do the work to retire that name for good!
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?
What to Expect in the First Year (podcast). As Founders, we think we know how our products and businesses will look and function for years to come, but as with time, it's nearly impossible to expect the unexpected.
Retiring Early is a Broken Concept Retiring isn't really our end goal, so we shouldn't aspire to it. What we really want is to shape our life the way we want it to be.
Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, 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.