If Your Startup is Struggling, That Might Be a Good Sign

August 18, 2015

12:30 pm

No successful startup was easy to build, writes entrepreneur Mathilde Collin – so if your startup is struggling, it might mean you’re onto something.

As cofounder and CEO of Front, Collin has gone through many of these struggles and heard tales of others. Like when your best employee quits out of the blue. Or you have to fire someone who quit their job to join you. When investors say “no” – a short way of saying: “You’ll never amount to anything.” When you’re so obsessed with your startup that relaxation is a distant memory.

This is all par for the course for startups, something any founder should expect. “If you wanted a job that would make you feel happy, this is not the one,” writes Collin, who graduated from Y Combinator almost a year ago.

We can draw two conclusions from the struggle. If we think this hardship is a sign that we’re doing something wrong, we can get discouraged – we might even quit. But there’s another way to interpret hardship: as a sign that, just maybe, you’re getting somewhere. (This reminds me of the fixed vs. growth mindset, and the brilliant essay “How to relate to fear in a way that makes it ok.”) Our mental health and motivation depend on this distinction.

“Hardship is the sign that I’m doing something non-trivial,” writes Collin. She says there is a Great Filter for startups, a period of time when it seems like all problems and no progress. Lots of entrepreneurs quit here, but the successful ones push past it.

That doesn’t mean that all hardship is a good sign, of course. Struggling with a bad product or a too-small market won’t get you anywhere. But all successful startups go through a period of struggle – struggle is necessary but not sufficient for success.

“Don’t jump to the wrong conclusion  –  it doesn’t mean that because you’re suffering, you must therefore be building something of value. The correct deduction is that if you’re not getting through hard times, then maybe you’re not trying hard enough to beat the average,” she says.

Collin recommends sharing those struggles with your team, other entrepreneurs, and your friends and family – anything to avoid bottling it all up inside. And with the above in mind, that might not feel so shameful and embarrassing. What feels like hell now might become a badge of honor later.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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