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Startup Challenges: Founder Feels Like a Slacker!

A product based startup is quite different from either consultancy or full-time employment, especially at the very beginning. I’m fortunate that I’m not starting this venture (more on this later) alone, and have an excellent partner. He bring years of experience in technology sales and really has an admirable attention to details, and is really good at the aspects of the business that I find uninteresting (like how to make money!).

Anyways, the key difference lies in where the buck stops and who sets the strategy. As an entrepreneur, both of these functions are the domain of the person you see in the mirror. The second day of this venture, I got that queasy feeling in my stomach that I have not experienced since my PhD days.. and yes, doctoral research exercises many of the same muscles as entrepreneurship, you never feel like you’ve done enough, you have lofty targets and absolutely no resources, and if you take a months vacation, the world ends.

The two tactics that got me through my PhD will hopefully serve me well in this new venture, which is to identify and reduce risk as early as possible, and to differentiates between setting yourself a ton of tasks, and the actual objectives that you have to attain. Get to those objectives by the easiest and most reliable path possible, and ruthlessly eliminate ‘busy’ tasks that are nice-to-have, but do not have an attractive return on effort.

In doctoral research, the ultimate risk is lack of clarity, and I am quite proud of how I dealt with that. I managed to identify the topic that I wanted to address within three months of joining the programme, and had completed the core research for my degree within 19 months of the start of my PhD. In terms of objectives, I very quickly evaluated and discarded technique after technique and data set after data set before I arrived at the ones that I was happy with. I always kept a ‘live’ plan with me on what I was getting to, and on days when I was not motivated, and felt lost, I cracked open the doc, and very quickly found something to work on that tickled my fancy.

However, not for a single day did I actually feel that I was performing at full capacity. Despite my phenomenal speed, and rapid progress, every day I felt like a slacker. I’ve started experiencing the same feelings again. If I look objectively at my accomplishments over the past few days they are quite good; I have identified 6 technical targets, each of which will either evolve into a service, improve the performance considerably of these services, or is an essential requirement for the business. Of these, three are potentially very patentable, and two can form a very valuable proprietary data/rule-set.

I have validated my ideas through key people in my network, and instead of pooh-poohing them, I’ve had offers of support and more than one half-joking question about stocks that I may have for sale. I have also accepted an offer from someone I respect technically to work for the first three months for this project essentially for free.  Separately someone else has volunteered to carry out their final thesis research on the marketing/product development aspects of our venture. Of course, their contributions will not be forgotten, and both these individuals will become important members of the team going forward, if they so wish. Everything looks great, but I still feel like a slacker… perhaps it has to do with being at home surrounded by family and familiar comforts. No one can actually be having this much fun and be working, can they? .. or maybe, it is because there is no structure imposed on me, and I can work whenever I feel like it, and there do happen to be 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week, all ‘excess’ capacity waiting to be utilized!

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