Don’t accelerate your startup

Once you’re onboard, you’re not getting off

Selling 7% of a mere startup idea for tens of thousands of dollars, mentorship from Silicon Valley royalty, and the contacts that come with it seems like a no-brainer proposition. No wonder the mostly young, fresh-eyed recruits are lining up for that deal. But that’s because they’re not reading the fine, implicit print.

That print isn’t in the contract, but rather in the indoctrination. You’re not just selling 7% of a startup idea, you’re selling, potentially, the next 10+ years of your life to a very particular startup paradigm. Are you sure you’re fully understanding the terms?

See once you take the initial check, you’re also inevitably taking on the expectations of exponential growth. You’re literally selling your life, heart, and soul to an off-chance crack at a moonshot trajectory. That’s perfectly fine if the only vision of success you can imagine is becoming the next Silicon Valley tycoon.

But I don’t think most startup founders actually have such a narrow definition of success. I don’t think they actually think as much about what the end goal looks like as they do about how to relieve some of the hardship of starting. That’s completely understandable, but it also makes them easy prey for startup accelerators.

The accelerators all brag about the total valuation of all their bets. Hey, companies we gracefully allowed to sign our deal are now worth $100 billion!! Rarely do they brag about the distribution of outcomes, and never do they dwell on whether the individuals who went through the sausage factory liked the smell.

Starting something new is hard. It’s a time full of doubt. You’re vulnerable not only to startup accelerators who present themselves as having solved the puzzle of turning an idea into an IPO, but also to the peer pressure that affirms the wisdom of that path. With so many other things to consider, like all that it takes to continue moving forward, it’s really hard to properly devote time to the ultimate question: Why am I doing this?

Again, your answer may very well be wanting to become Zuckerberg or Kalanick. And if so, you’re right where you belong. But if not, just stop for a minute. Take a day off from the grind and truly examine your motivations. You may just find that they don’t line up with the paradigm you’re about to devote some of your peak living years to. And if it doesn’t, now is the time to prevent that mismatch.

Because once you sell those 7%, you’ve spiritually already sold all of it to the God of Growth. You don’t get to take it back. You won’t even think to. This will be your world. Make sure this is really where you want to live. And if not, don’t accelerate your startup.

Do you know Claire and Know Your Company? It’s one of my favorite startups that’s still small (just 3 people!), yet making a real difference to thousands of employees within 200+ businesses, making their voices heard. Yes, it’s a bit of self-dealing since KYC was spun off Basecamp, but that does nothing to negate Claire’s mission and her approach. One of the most impressive startup CEOs out there on a completely different timetable than those who were accelerated. We need more role models like this. Dare to become one.

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