An open meeting in public on Zoom with a simple format: Themed open dialogue and his kick-off gathering was about ‘Life as a founder’ .
Didn’t take long to decide to join on that public meeting where I was allocated a ‘guest speaking slot’ to tell my story and how I experienced life as a founder. And the perspectives I gained.
I decided to jot it down in the form of a blog post for people that haven’t joined.
How it started
Lots of things I learned when I started out. And that’s about 20 years ago.
One thing I can tell you: It was a painful road with a boulevard of broken dreams and more often than not downsides than upsides.
I went straight into entrepreneurship with no corporate experience. And not because I wanted to chase the illusion of being independent, but rather because it was super opportunity driven.
The landscape in 2005 was very different than today.
SaaS, e-commerce, social media and tons of verticals were set to shift, making landslide waves across the world.
My motivations were pure: Taking shots starting a first business because entire industries were shifting.
I was able to risk everything with almost nothing.
Unlike most people I see today, I was able to risk everything with almost nothing. Failing WAS AN OPTION.
I figured, if I take a shot and fail, I have plenty of time to rectify any fuckups made and go corporate.
Taking big bets in early stage of my adult life was mainly thanks to poker. (But I will write a separate blog post about this)
Poker definitely set a tone on my trajectory and going all-in with 7-2 was even back then for me PLUS EV.
Fast forward, it was only natural you start to surround yourself with more ‘founders and CEO’s’.
Truth be told, the majority I knew back them called themselves but they were the same age as I was and were just running a business on their own that barely made it out of infant stages or even cashflow positive.
I then realized: the term CEO or founder was nothing but a prestigious label.
After all, the people in my circles back then were on par with my level and let’s face it: little to no experience and not providing a decent track record in Rev Ops or growing a business was just facepalming at best.
But the biggest realization was that being a founder was sold to me as a lifestyle.
That you’re operating from a lifestyle POV was and will always be a recipe for disaster.
But nothing could be different from this illusion.
Here is what happened in my first years of entrepreneurship:
- I sacrificed friendships
- I worked on average 120 hours per week for 5 years straight and zero holidays
- I ended up in the hospital for 6 months with nobody coming to visit me
- I made a lot of wrong decisions, influenced by other starting entrepreneurs around me whilst I should have known better that taking advice from people at a toddler level is just plain wrong
- It requires instinct. Doing it by the book will not get you far. You need to able to trust yourself a lot more on decisions you make. And create a better decision making process.
- Expect variance. And a lot of bad beats in life. I cannot stress out enough how many hits most starting entrepreneurs need to take. This could be churn, loss of client portfolio, competition, reviews, etc…
- Be resilient. For fuck sake, resilience is for me personally the biggest superpower one should have. I learned to adapt myself in situations. Early days, I was rather stubborn and pursued ideology or cases I strongly I believe I was right.
- Expect NOTHING. Gain everything. Settle for less. I was thinking too big in early stage. And because I built up some GOD complex and grandeur illusions, I went broke two times. I took unneeded risks to reach higher highs.
- Develop killer instinct. Kill what’s coming your way and you will have to make a lot of unpleasant decisions. Without killer instinct you are most likely to fail and become your own single point of failure.
- It’s not meant for everyone. Starting a business, in any form comes with more downsides than upsides. Don’t become a ‘founder’ because others around you are pursuing that same lifestyle dream. The majority of people are better off sticking to their 9-5 job.
- Don’t quit your job until you have 18 months of runway at least. Variance is a real bitch and it will bite you in the ass in early stage. Without financial runway you are most likely to make different decisions and this will influence your process where the outcome will be more minus EV.
- Expect to fail more than you will succeed. Especially in the first couple of years. And there is no shame in that. In fact I WANT YOU TO FAIL. Because by doing so, your tolerance and resilience will grow.
- Failure as a starting entrepreneur should be seen as a learning curve and not a loss. The mental tax burden can weigh heavily. But the best way to cope with it is to walk if off and come back the next day.
- Cheap can be very fucking expensive. If you are in a position to buy the right tools or stack for optimal productivity then go for it. The same applies in hiring consultants or experts to accelerate your learning curve. Buying knowledge can fast track your path to growth.
- Treat time as a commodity. I asked once on X: ‘Would you rather spend 100 hours going DIY or hire someone to do the job in 1 hour and learn from it?’ They all picked door number 1 and that is why I will always beat the shit out of them on an entrepreneurial level. Time is the largest commodity you have in life, but also in business and sometimes you just gotta prioritize.
But the ONE thing I absolutely learned in my life as a founder is the ability to sleep at night.
Being able to call it a day and sleep. Waking up with a fresh mind and no stress is most people cannot.
That took me almost 10 years to learn. And it affected my life, and the ability to make the right calls/decisions in business.
Looking back, I would have done a lot of things very differently but at the same time I feel very privileged witnessing a golden era (early 2000s). Today I observed a lot of newborn entrepreneurs and they fail to understand fundamentals or perspectives.
In many cases being more OG helped me to obtain an edge.
That era made me street smart.
Being a founder is not something that can be taught straight from a book.
Being street smart and book smart at the same time is in high correlation with killer instinct and survival mode.
Most of my friends have more degrees than I do, but simply can’t succeed because they are not street smart enough. And failed more times than I did.
Finding Alpha and Edge
You won’t find it unless you realize how much of a shit show entrepreneurship can be. Finding true Alpha in your industry is hard. Because you’re most likely small fish in a barrel and seasoned players have a bigger edge than yours. Whether that’s because of experience or a bigger bankroll or both.
It took me 5 years to find an edge and Alpha that placed me in a position where I could afford to start with growth experiments, burn money on potential concepts.
The edge was not only because of 5 years of sacrifices. It was a combination of timing (2005), drive, abilities and skills:
- Being a semi-pro poker player
- Being a day trader
- Obsessed with capital markets and macro-economics
- Being active in niche blogging
- Running a service based business
- Selling soft-erotica novels in the Amazon KDP market that brought in 50K USD per month for 24 months straight
- Being obsessed with SEO in early days
- Understanding values outside of monetary gains
- Making big bets with a zero risk of ruin
- Understanding leverage and hedge from a business perspective
- Zooming out
- Not building in public but rather being Sigma and shut the fuck up about it until you see some substantial revenue or traction
- Cherrypick circles and people around you
- Learning from the ultra wealthy
- Build kevlar and become bulletproof
If I were to start from zero today, I would never obtain the same results nor get the same traction.
KDP Amazon was a game changer for me, so was niche blogging and surviving the majority updates like Panda or Penguin by Google.
It was driven by opportunity, and my responsibilities back then were zero to none. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible today, but it will be less frictionless since most markets became red ocean.