I recently read an article in which the author shares some of the annoying things that the IT startup world is spreading. I am also annoyed by the unrealistically pretty picture that people like to paint. You go in, you do fun stuff, you make all the decisions, you make millions, you become famous, etc. To be clear, I have been my own boss for over 10 years. I only held a few jobs in that time, but they gave me the money and skills I needed to push forward. I know what it means to build a company; I’ve built several.
Be your own boss
So what is so unrealistic about what people claim about startups? I often hear people say that they want to be their own boss. This is what a company is all about: not taking orders from anyone. But is it? As you climb the ladder, you find out that there is a whole new level of bosses: the tax department, your investors, your clients, etc. Suddenly, you have to interview people, handle payroll, fill dozens of forms per month for the government, plan a marketing budget, shop for service providers, follow up with these providers when they fail to deliver on time, schedule meetings with customers, call these customers when they don’t pay on time, rearrange the delivery schedule when your team lead has to visit his dying father across the ocean, run to the store when your toner is out of ink, and so much more. And then you come home to your spouse who wants you to do laundry, your kids who want you to go watch their karate performance next Saturday, and you still haven’t had lunch with that guy who wants to talk to you about unspecified important things.
So the short answer is: no. You are never really your own boss. In reality, you have a multitude of bosses at work instead of just one and your generally work much longer hours to keep everything in one piece.
Build your own product
Another common misconception is that venture capitals (VCs) will give you money to build the product of your dreams. They are investors. In short, it means that they put money in a box and expect there to be substantially more money in the box when they return. Your dream product is a means for them to grow their money. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care about the product, but ultimately the product needs to take a direction as to become a profitable sale, not a sustainable business. This may not be a direction that impassions you, so think carefully before you make that leap. If you want to be in control of your product, take as much time as is necessary to complete it or to grow it into a sustainable business, consider bootstrapping the company through your own means. In both cases, you will need to become an expert in sales and marketing, skills that you may not possess and may find hard to develop. Perhaps you will find that spending 70% or more of your time doing non-programming work is not a happy life for you.
I don’t want to discourage anybody from going out there and accomplishing great things, or to work with investors. I just want people to go out there prepared. Knowing what awaits you is important. Don’t rush blindly and unarmed into a battlefield. Most of all, decide whether you have what it takes to win the battle, and whether this is really the path that you want to take.