Monday, January 11, 2010

What gets me up in the morning?

I used my last post to look back on the first five years of FanFooty, and while it was cathartic to get the minutiae of history down all at once, there are a few more things I would like to say about my experiences.

I was asked on Twitter by Leslie Nassar about whether the first post was hard to write, and I had to admit that no, it wasn't. I am a feature writer from way back so my posts tend to be essay-length, and they tend to well up from my subconscious like so much molten lava, so that when they erupt it's more of a relief from pressure than a chore. Thus, I pondered afterward, I probably didn't give enough of myself in the telling. After five years there are bound to be things that are difficult to say, but should be said anyway.

I was asked a question the other day, by a fellow traveler down this long road of starting a startup. Why are we doing this? Why do we go on? Why do we get up in the morning? Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why?

The reason I have been giving in public when asked something like this has been that I wanted to test myself. I had been covering Internet startups during the first boom, meeting a lot of entrepreneurs, and I had the (hubricious) thought that I was just as good as these guys (or the rare girl), and I wanted to see if I could really hack it in this field. This caused me to join AusBONE, which ended up not being successful. I didn't have the sales skills at that time to really understand how to do cold calls, which was my primary role. Even if I had done much better, though, events overtook me and everyone else in the industry when the bubble burst and it didn't end up mattering.

Fast forward to 2004 and I finally got on the entrepreneur horse - for real this time as a founder, not just as an employee of someone else's startup. Part of it was desperation, as my other work prospects weren't appealing. The old desire to prove myself was still there. I have always been interested in expanding the boundaries of my skill set, as I am a firm believer in continuous education. It had been high school since I had last done any programming work, and PHP was easy enough for me to pick up without too much bridging work needed between my old BASIC knowledge.

That is the frontbrain explanation, which is usually all that is said in articles like this. Let me delve a little into the hindbrain. A large part of my motivation for doing what I do is anger. There, I said it. There are parts of my life that generate anger for me specifically, like the way I am treated by some people, or the deficiencies and weaknesses in my own character that continue to limit my potential. I am angry at certain individuals, and for some of them I know my anger is irrational, but that only increases the effect because I add anger at myself for being so damn childish. Sometimes the anger does turn in on itself, and I become unproductive. I'm not saying it's healthy in any way. However, when I can untangle the chains of anger and stop them whipping me, they can pull me with great strength in some sort of forward direction.

That is not to say that every entrepreneur is angry, or should act out of anger. Startup founders usually have strong egos or, if you don't like overtly Freudian language, a strong sense of self. To consider yourself worthy to be a founder in the first place usually means you have a diverse range of skills and a set of accomplishments you can look back on with pride, so the position self-selects for people who have credible confidence in themselves. I know some founders who act mostly out of love... for themselves, for their families (sometimes as an extension of themselves), for causes. Acting out of a positive affirmation of your own abilities is a perfectly healthy way for founders to operate. If you choose to label this as egotistical or narcissistic, that's your concern. Founders who can use their knowledge of their own mind to strengthen their resolve to act to benefit themselves have a better chance than most to succeed.

Getting down to work as a founder, when you don't have a boss sitting over your shoulder or a fortnightly paycheck that is on the line, sometimes requires using both of the above motivating factors. At other times, it feels to me like you have to actually ignore your own emotions. This is particularly true for those who hack code a lot, as losing yourself in thousands of lines of computer language is an intellectual exercise.

What gets me up in the morning? A sense of purpose. Sure, I don't have a partner or a family to support (or who support me). Would I like to be in that situation? Sure. Those in relationships can subsume their own personality into a gestalt entity, and gain strength from the whole. Plus, you know, chicks are soft and all. Nevertheless, I believe that is a separate thing from the distinctive emotional underpinning of why you continue to work at a start-up... as opposed to turning your brain off, donning a suit and taking a salary in a cubicle. Being a founder means that you have a strong sense of self, independent of familial roots, and part of your personality is tied up in being a founder. To deny that part of you, even if crazy shit is going on in other parts of your life, is to deny an essential part of yourself. No matter if you run on love, commitment, hope or anger, you must keep running, if for no one else's sake but your own. No one can survive on denial.


Post a Comment

<< Home