This is me and Joanne, sometime in 2008, a couple months before our Daily Grommet launch.
This is the two of us, last week, a little over a year later.
(We really did not plan to dress like Bobbsey Twins in both pictures, BTW. Just happened. I do like that we actually look happier now than then!)
Here is what I learned in the intervening year between these photos:
- There is no room for compromise on your partners. And you need them. I would not be smiling if I did not have Joanne by my side. I really don’t know how solo startup founders do it. You need to be challenged, mutually supported, and the sheer workload is just too much for one leadership person. Beyond that, running a startup is a race against time and it takes real distributed horsepower to stay one step in front of the zillion things threatening to kill you every day.
- There’s going to be a special place in Heaven for startup teams birthed in the last year. Because the last 12 months have been a special brand of Hell on Earth for all of us. Are there good things about launching in a financial crisis? Sure. There must be some. We will think of them when Inc. magazine comes to do a profile.
- There is no room for fear and plenty of need for guts. There are a few things that have the power to scare me. Possible burn-out by key team members. Stomach flu (really!). House fires. But when I think about the broader life picture, I realize I’ve never had a safety net. The only “privilege” in my background is coming from a rock-solid family. (This is a common life-theme on our team, BTW. We were born with shovels in our hands, not silver spoons.) Yet in the last year I realized that having comfort during a perpetual high-wire act is pretty unusual. (I’m speaking about most of the time–I do have Yikes! moments fo’ sure.) It’s easy to take risks when you have the cushion of money flowing freely in a good economy, or you come from privilege, or you’ve struck it big before. Doing it this year, especially with none of those advantages, takes guts.
- The people missing in the photo are probably more important than the ones getting their picture taken. I am thinking of our ridiculously fierce and courageous team. But I am also thinking of our families. The sacrifices they make probably exceed our own.
Surely, most of these lessons were shared by anyone who started a company in the last 18 months. I’ve seen a bunch of experienced entrepreneurs pull the plug quickly in 2009, planning to “wait this one out.”
I realized lately that I take a lot of Daily Grommet pictures because I know these early days tend to turn out to be some of the best ones. I want to remember them vividly, for both their pain and glory. I am sure I will learn a bunch of new lessons next year. I may not get smarter, but getting wiser is inevitable.