September 5, 2013
In startups, sometimes you’re the horse and sometimes you’re the damn whip. “Ups and downs” is putting it mildly. I’m not sure if I was bipolar before I founded my startup, Speek—my wife Joanne is sure that I was, but I’ll let her save that for the tell-all (Speeking Out: Confessions of a Startup Bride)—but I definitely am now. One week it’s all cupcakes and rainbows; the next week feels like a highlight reel of guys getting hit in the nuts. It’s laughter or tears, Morton’s or McDonald’s.
This week, it was Morton’s all the way.
At a time like this, it’s good to celebrate what’s working and why, and also to remember to savor this feeling, to hold on to it to get us through the next rough patch, when even getting up in the morning will sound like an excruciatingly horrible idea.
First what worked: we rewrote the app for a number of reasons and it all came together—the team killed it and started gelling, bugs got fixed, features got implemented, QA went well. They nailed it and it wasn’t easy.
Why did it work? Fate, maybe, or karma. But certainly, it also had to do with the fact that the Speek team is executing crisply—like a freshly-starched dress shirt straight back from the dry cleaner. We had meetings with Internet execs that would make Dave McClure’s Rolodex jealous. We added some of the baddest engineers in the world to our team, planned a user appreciation/launch party that would put Steve Rubell (as played by Mike Myers) to shame, locked down sponsors, and no one’s butt even got tattooed this time (for neither the first nor the last time, my apologies to John’s wife).
And here’s the truth: the high times make the low times forgettable. The low times make the high times impossible to forget.
I’m sitting on a plane writing this and just feeling a lot of gratitude for my life. I don’t know how this odyssey ends, but I do know this: I found the thing that I love as a teenager and have spent the last 15 years getting great at it. Not many people have that blessing. Today is one of those days that makes me feel great, like I made the right choice in life. Like the scars I’ve earned were just ways I found to toughen up my skin, tattoos bled into me by the baddest ink artist ever: a big scary dude named Life.
As founders, we are blessed, and we need to take the time to step back and find gratitude. The gratitude can be all encompassing if you let it. It permeates all we do. It opens doors. But you have to let it be. A cross-country flight with no WiFi helps, incidentally (although, United, seriously: no WiFi?).
As founders we are the bootleggers exposing the opportunities created by loopholes, corporate nonsense, and arbitrary law. We are the artists. The songwriters. The ones that put a dent in the universe with a spiked bat. We are Lemmy. We are Axl Rose before he got fat, drunk and stupid. We are a Hunter S. Thompson mutant: too weird to live, and too rare to die.
What we do can destroy lives. It destroys marriages—it almost did mine. My wife Joanne is my best friend in the world and we were able to work it out. It destroys our health—many of us have become fat, bald, drunk and stupid (remember Axl Rose from two paragraphs ago?). It destroys relationships—I have lost some very good friends and a pretty crappy father along the way.
But damn it if it’s not all worth it.
These struggles we put upon ourselves burn the fat from our souls.
This week was the high that makes the inevitable comedown justifiable. This week we hit our stride.
Like 50 Cent said: “Sunny days wouldn’t be so special, if it wasn’t for rain/and joy wouldn’t feel so good, if it wasn’t for pain.” And that’s what we as founders discover, over and over again. In an environment where 95 percent of us fail, where we end up in debt, depressed, divorced, or dead. Usually in that order.
Some call it a grind. They’re wrong: it’s like passing Navy SEAL training—minus the whole running miles in the snow and getting tortured part. But hey, carpal tunnel is no joke.
I must have done good things in a prior life. I’ve been blessed with some very good karma. Perhaps my meditations, Deeksha and spiritual coaching from Amy Arnold have had their impact. Perhaps it’s the amazing people I am surrounded by. My wife, my kids, my Speek team, my fellow Speek execs John and Konrad, my old friends (who I’ve known since I was seven years old and still talk to every week), my new friends, our advisors, our investors…
I don’t know why it’s working, but it is. What I do know is that I’m grateful. Gratitude permeates my mind, spirit and existence perpetually these days.
Weeks like this make it all worth it.
I wouldn’t trade my life for anything in the world.
At least not this week.
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