Am I a startup?
Updated: Jun 4, 2019
It's 9:30 a.m. this morning, and I am laying in bed with a splitting headache. My partner and son left the house a few hours ago, and the house is quiet. Four months ago, I would have been sitting at my desk at the university where I worked, preparing for my next meeting. But in June I walked away from a 13+ year career in higher education to launch my very first company - FreeUp.
It started with a growing curiosity about business ownership, sometime in the winter of 2015. I remember ordering several books on the topic, and one other book called Keeping Found Things Found by Dr. William Jones. I read this particular book over several months - mostly on my lunch breaks at work. I came to realize that our personal digital lives are an absolute mess, and there are very few services available to help people make sense of it all. I also began feeling hemmed in by the constraints of my 9-5, for all the reasons you've probably been reading about online, and excited by websites and online communities I had found that inspired me to imagine a different way to work.
So now, I'm in it. You know what I'm talking about - that valley of self-doubt and worry that your brilliant idea has led you down a path to nowhere. Someday, your friends and loved ones will say of your business venture, with the best of intentions, "Hey, at least you learned a lot." Yeah, as if that was the reason you left your solidly-paying job with benefits and a great office - to learn a lot.
Back to this morning - as I lay there oscillating between sleep and self-doubt, I reached toward my bedside table for yet another business book I had checked out from the library, Traction, How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. My heart rate was already creeping up as I imagine the million strategies I must suddenly master in order to finally turn a profit and not die a sad startup death. Within the first chapter, Paul Graham of Y Combinator is quoted, saying, "A startup is a company designed to grow fast...The only essential thing is growth."
Growth, and fast - these are the key elements we're talking about here. In today's world, when the words "startup" and "entrepreneur" seem to yield instant (unearned) cred, no wonder I am feeling the slump. It has been four months since I started. Four. months. Shouldn't I be exponentially growing my client base by now? Shouldn't I be on track to recoup my lost salary? Shouldn't I at least be earning as much as the person asking if I want fries with that?
Time out. As a farmer's daughter, I know better. You probably know better, too. Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved overnight. In fact, the whole reason people often leave their 9-5 jobs is so they can escape the rat race and forge a meaningful career path on their own terms, at their own pace, and according to their own priorities. The people I serve through FreeUp feel this way too - they have a strong desire to take control of the wheel in the face of the constant pressure to keep up with the latest smartphone app or social media platform.
So, here it is - I am not a startup. Although I am interested in growth, it cannot be at the expense of my mission or my sanity. And although fast would be nice, I would much rather enjoy the long-term dividends of well-invested time and fully-earned titles. I realize now that life has gifted me a greater opportunity - not a startup, but a sabbatical. The word popped into my head this morning, and I looked it up. Sure enough, the definition fit me perfectly. I am taking an intentional break from my previous career in order to fulfill a goal, explore an idea, and take the time to re-imagine how I want the rest of my life to go.
Maybe you can relate. You decided to quit your job to start something on your own. You wanted to test yourself - to see exactly what you are made of. You wanted to erase the limitations of a job title and pre-determined salary and explore the limits of your own potential. This is big stuff, people. As I have found, it takes major courage - and it isn't always comfortable.
As Brené Brown says in Rising Strong, "We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time." It took me over a year to build up the courage (and the plan) to quit my job and step off the career ladder into complete uncertainty. So far, I have very little profit and very little regret.
But, who knows? I may end up starting something that will change the world, or maybe it will just change my own perspective. Either way, according to this measure, I am (as they stay in the startup world) killing it! I may not be a startup, but I know I have started living the life that I want. And those dividends are growing, fast.