I am one of those unfortunates who possesses both left- and right-brained skills. My major in college was creative writing, but when I graduated and my family needed financial help, I realized that any careers related to literature were not going to pay me enough to help out. Shocking, I know. Before I committed myself to assisting my family, I interviewed at publishing firms in New York City, envisioning a future in which I would be hunkered down in a dismal basement apartment, scribbling the next Great American Novel. Such are the idealistic and sentimental aspirations of youthful, dreamily inspired writers, where we dramatically drop ourselves into a scene from The Great Gatsby or Fahrenheit 451.
Instead, I entered the corporate world, the environment of Dilbert-cubes, the atmosphere of get-the-job-done, and I discovered that I was pretty good at it. I possessed an indefinable analytical talent that enabled me to dissect financials, to craft budgets and projections, and to assemble, piece by piece, hard bid pricing for submission to RFPs from the public and private sectors for contracts. It was exciting, the whirlwind of numbers and conversations with vendors and partners, to obtain a number that I would then fit neatly into the pricing model against a looming deadline that had my compatriots running around and shouting as the clock counted down. I found it satisfying, rewarding, to be able to sit back and look at that spreadsheet with all that data and think, yes, this is the number. And to be able to say, “This is it guys, let’s go with it!”, was the best.
My entire professional career has been in building startups and new venture firms. I was and am able to wear many hats. I have strode my way through marketing, business development, accounting, finance, human resources, development, construction, quality assurance, and many others throughout my journey through the corporate world. I loved every minute of it even when I groused and complained about how my talents were being wasted or underutilized. I would like to point out, however, that I was never assigned to any sales efforts because you would only have to meet me once to know that I would totally suck at schmoozing prospects or presenting in front of large audiences. That is not my strong suit. I am not a people person.
I am best behind a desk or attacking a project with a tight deliverable, I excel at performing under duress even though I suffer from heart attacks afterwards, I am good at keeping my head level when people around me are freaking out. This, coupled with my ability to be both creative and analytical (qualitative versus quantitative), has saved me from a nine-to-five, cubicle existence.
However, it can be strenuous, and that type of environment almost always took a toll on my personal life. I hardly met up with my friends or kept in touch with my immediate family; how could I, when the principal of the company would call me at 2:00 in the morning to discuss some new ideas that just happened to suddenly pop into his head? What time could I find for myself when everything was a fire drill? The rest of the world always fell away when I was working, every fiber and nerve of my body was dedicated to building up the company and addressing emergencies.
My career has been exciting, no doubt, but I peg some of the issues I had with my marriage to it. Hindsight is 20/20, or so they say, and I guess it’s true, because when I look back now, I realize that my jobs took away from my relationships, with my ex and friends and family.
What I learned from my endeavors is that if you are not an equity partner, all your dedication, time, and devotion comes down to naught. A simple paycheck, hefty to be sure if you are with the right group of founders, but still…just a paycheck. The blood you shed, the time you lose that you could otherwise be spending with your loved ones, they are all reduced to a single number on a paystub. It took me a long while, but I came to the epiphany that we, as people, exist only a very short time against the great expanse of eternity that is the universe, and is this what I want to do?
Do I want to slave and storm in frustration and stress into the early morning hours to build something for someone else at the expense of my limited years on what we call earth? I discovered, probably too late in the game, that I did not. It would be different if I was actually part of something, had an equity stake in a company, which is why my ex and I founded our company, but even then…it was a small enterprise and I had neither the time or energy to grow it the way I wanted to on the behalf of both of us. What I was already going though drained me enough.
However, I love the setting and energy surrounding a team when I’m part of creating a small startup. Absolutely love it and would do it again, no question. As long as it was the right one, one in which I had some skin in the game, one in which the hours I sacrifice would actually mean something. I love the excitement in the air when the startup I am at lands a client or secures a contract or closes a deal, however informal. But at this point in my life, I would need to be a principal to go through all the negatives that come with it again.
Building a new company from the ground up is not easy. It appears to be glamorous, in a Hollywood style, but it’s tough. It’s hard to craft a team where each member contributes something vital and significant, yet possesses enough flexibility and smarts to pitch in and help out when it comes to an exigent project in another department. It’s hard to fit together personalities with ambitions and egos so everybody gets along for the betterment of the company. It’s frustrating to put together a workforce and set down guidelines when you’re not even sure yourself where the company is heading. Being there on the ground floor of a startup or new venture is fun, but not necessarily enjoyable or stress free.
So disregard all the hype and glamour that surrounds the world of startups and new ventures. It is a tough, grueling journey, one which takes a lot out of anyone who is there from the beginning. Which is the whole point, I guess – high sacrifice for hopefully high rewards – but it takes a certain, unique personality and character to deal with it day to day.
You will hear about the awesome culture and the friendly, tight relationships you will form and those exist, they do, but what you don’t realize are the sacrifices you will have to make too, the things you give up, like personal relationships, years out of your lifespan, the ability to snap out of your ecosphere, and a litany of other challenges to personal fulfillment. When you are busy working in such a situation, you will tend to forget that we are human beings, able to experience the world through sensory abilities other than the pure, logical and objective lens that we don when tackling business.
So if you are contemplating founding a company or being employed by a startup or new venture, keep in mind that you will give up a lot of yourself, your significant other, and your family in your endeavors. You should ask yourself, is this worth it?