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Friday
Jul092010

You're not *really* working, right?

All these years Steve has been an entrepreneur, I became accustomed to seeing him go through the early stages of a start-up, the days when it's just him and maybe one other person. Some days I'd come home, ask him how his day was, and it would sound as though not a whole lot got done... but in reality, a lot of talking and thinking happened. That's the thing about the early stages... so much of it is a process of talking things through, making decisions, trying ideas on then ruling them out. I think I understood that somewhat having watched him all these years, but now that I'm experiencing it for myself, I understand it on such a deeper level. Unlike when you're a cog at a big company, in a start-up there's no way to quantify a "start-up day." You can't say here's a clear block of work that has a specific value, and therefore every day you should complete x number of blocks, and if you do this, then you are making progress. 

Instead, you spend your days both completing work, and thinking up what new work you should be doing. It's kind of funny that way. No one is standing over you saying "here's what I need you to do today." Not that I have had that in many years, but in general, someone is usually saying "here's your next project" and you know what needs to be done. But not in a start-up. You have to determine what are the tasks you need to complete, and then go complete them. It's much harder. Moreover, you need to recognize that action doesn't equate to progress. Sometimes the right thing to do is to stop doing what you've been doing, and rethink it... and redo it... and no matter how much you may curse your partner when they point it out to you, you know they're right. 

And yet the irony is that when you're in the early stages of a start-up... no one believes you're actually working. I feel like I'm frequently met with surprise when I explain that we actually spend our days working hard: coding, writing, designing, strategizing, revamping, course-correcting, planning, etc. Creating a company isn't a code word for slacking. Or bullshitting. (Well, at least not for us, I can't speak to all start-ups). 

On the one hand, the upside of a start-up is that you can decide on a beautiful day that perhaps your work would get done more effectively if you were in a chaise at the pool, and you can make that happen. I admit, this is where some of the misunderstanding may come in, because it might appear to be slacking.

On the other hand... you never really stop working. Every conversation, every meal, every spin class, every walk to the dog park, every shower, you're talking and/or thinking about what you're doing. Because this is your creation. It takes over your view of the world. Steve has always said that being a founder is different from being an employee, even an early employee, because it's just yours. And he's absolutely right. It's a completely different level of commitment... and obsession.

So next time you hear someone say they're starting a company, and you think that's a euphemism for being unemployed or slacking... it's not. Consider that it's actually one of the hardest things you can do: creating value from nothing. With no guidance. And completely your fault if you fail. 

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