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Being a Founder is Hard

Location: Berkeley, CA

As Steve and I continue to build out our idea for L-squared, and actually get to work, I'm discovering an ever deeper respect for his ability to do this time and again, especially at the very beginning. It's hard. It's scary. It's thrilling and exciting. And yet, day after day, it's... well, it's hard to stay focused. 

On the one hand, every day I am amazed at how easy it is. How much time there is in the day. How much you can get done when you're not in meetings all the time, or having to respond to emails. God, emails. The bane of my existence at Gap. Think about it. If there was only you and one other person to keep in the loop, or run things by, how much easier would your life be? No meetings trying to educate and convince. No politics. No one telling you something can't be done, or inflating their estimate of what it would take to make it untenable. No one interrupting you with questions you've answered a hundred times. So even if I only worked three hours a day, I'd be far more productive than at a "normal" job.

On the other hand, there is no one standing over you telling you what to do. You have to come up with your own deadlines, your own execution plan, your own priorities. And if you don't do what you said... well, there isn't anyone who is going to yell at you. There's no big brother. This is definitely a good thing, but in some ways, it introduces some moral hazard; you could watch Gossip Girl at lunch and who would know? There's no adrenaline the way there is when you absolutely MUST get it done for a real deadline.

Yeah, I think the lack of adrenaline is the hardest for me. There is a huge dose at a macro level, the excitement of starting something completely new. Eventually there will be big milestones - launch, revenue, publicity, etc. But in the beginning... it's just you and your computer and a big, blank slate.

What's the difference between balance and laziness when there isn't a time clock?

I'm trying really hard to find the right balance. Take care of myself, go to the gym, take the dog to the park, not work too hard. But it would be so easy to just let the little things in my day take over, and never actually sit down to work.

It's not that I don't want to do what we're doing - far, far, far from it. I'm in fact really excited with our idea, and even more thrilled at my role in it. I'm finally getting to be a founder. I'm enjoying the work. And yet, I'm sooo out of practice of being disciplined. And when there are so many open questions still, and you might change direction any moment, you have to dig deep to find your own focus and energy. 

At a big company, as long as you get more work done than the other guy (or at least not as little as THAT guy), you can call it a good day and slack off the rest of it. Head to Starbucks. Have a buddy meeting. Gossip. The usual. Bide your time until the 5pm "whistle" blows. Not that I ever slacked that much, especially after years of being a consultant and having to account for every minute of my day, but still. You get complacent. There's only so much you can do some days.

But when you're starting a company, the more you slack and avoid work, the more you are actually hurting only yourself. It's a novel concept.

I know that once we achieve some momentum, and establish more of a regular schedule, it will get easier. It's just that working in our house runs me smack up against the voice in my head that killed me in college, the voice that tells me I simply can't start working until the entire house is clean top to bottom.

Yes, you guessed it. I'm a procrastinator. Luckily when I do work, I work pretty fast, so it doesn't always show... but it's true. I procrastinate horribly. So what happens when I don't have real deadlines? I'm trying not to find out. So, I'm creating them. I'm managing myself with a project plan. How geeky is that? But I find it's important to have a list, including at least one big thing I can cross off each day and feel a sense of accomplishment. 

In the meantime, I kind of miss all those meetings, in a sick, twisted way. Apparently I need human interaction so badly that I'd be willing to go to a meeting. Sad. Not that Steve doesn't count... it's just that he has an ability to become so engrossed and focused on a task that he doesn't even notice the lack of other humans. He knows how to be a founder.

Me, well, I'm learning how to be one... slowly but surely. I always thought I understood having lived vicariously through Steve's ten years of addiction -- I mean entrepreneurship. But understanding and doing are *very* different things.

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