Startups Are Not Sexy

Over the last 10 years the number of people I know working on their own startup has probably increased by a factor of 10. Hundreds of startup success stories and movies such as The Social Network have popularised the idea of building your own startup, just like TV shows such as The X Factor have popularised the idea of being a singer.

Now everyone wants to build their own startup, buy their respective Phoenix Club and turn it into their ping-pong room. The only problem is that the motivation should be toward solving a problem, not 'building a startup' because it's cool to tell your friends about and makes you feel important.

A startup only exists as a result of the desire to solve a real problem and by going through the long and difficult process of building the product your users want to pay for. Often the problem is something you personally care about and want to solve for yourself, or seen solved for some other reason.

The reality is nothing like what is portrayed in movies and on the internet. You spend an insane amount of time going through the cycle of getting it wrong, learning and attempting to getting it right again. You sacrifice most of your free time and have to be disciplined enough to make constant progress. It's hard work.

We tell people that during YC there are really only three things you should focus on: building things, talking to users, and exercising. Maybe this is a bit extreme, but the point is that early on in a startup all that matters is figuring out how to make something people want and doing it well. Don't spend all your time networking. Don't hire an army of interns. Just build stuff and talk to users. – Jessica Livingston

The only thing that matters in the beginning is your product, and the only way to build the right product is by talking to your users and understanding what they want. No amount of talking to other people about what you're doing, attending events, reading books or anything else is more important. When time is as scarce as it is in a startup, you have to make sure you're not wasting it on things that don't directly help you reach your goal.

So trust me, building a startup isn't sexy and my friends aren't envious of the evenings and weekends I spend behind my desk writing code. When I attend events, hiding the anxiety that I should be building the product instead isn't fun. And I certainly don't spend my days zip-lining from the roof into a pool.

But my co-founder and I are passionately focused on solving the problem and building our product, the startup just happens as a result.