John Petersen

Startup Like a Child

I was fired. I couldn't believe it and at the same time I knew it was coming. I had never been fired from anything in my life. I made a stand for what I believed in, the company didn't agree with me and I was fired. This moment triggered the next phase of my life -- entrepreneurship.

But I definitely didn't get off to a good start. As a result of being fired, I became completely driven to prove one thing: they were wrong and I was right. What that really meant was that the reason I was starting my company was completely wrong. Unsurprisingly, my first company failed.

The Wrong Reasons to Startup

Since that first failure, I've watched many founders start companies for wrong reasons all of their own. Here's some of the most common wrong reasons I've heard (usually indirectly).

I'm starting a company because...

  • I want to raise VC money.
  • I want to sell to Facebook for a billion dollars.
  • I want to be CEO so people think I'm smart / successful / attractive / hipsterish maximus.
  • I'm unemployed so I'm going to start my own company.
  • My boss is an idiot. I'll start a company and do things the right way.
  • I know a guy who did a startup and raised money. He's an idiot and if he can do it, I definitely can do it.

With a million wrong reasons to create a startup, I've found the best path to follow when thinking about a founding a company is to revert to your child brain.

Follow Your Passion

Kids do what they want to do. If you force them to do something, they put in as little effort as possible to get to a time when they can do what they want. Seems scarily similar to the "9-5 / work for the weekend" philosophy so many people have these days. It seems wrong to do something you don't want to do, yet I see founders try to build startups they have no interest in building.

You won't find a kid practicing the piano for hours every day because they're hoping to get acquired by Google one day. They play the piano because they get joy out of creating music. It should be the same way with starting a company. Don't build a startup around shopping when you hate shopping and don't understand a thing about it. Unless of course you're building a startup to eliminate shopping.

Take an inventory of the things you love doing. What do you do with your free time? How do you spend your weekends? What do you think about in the shower or when you first wake up in the morning? These are the things you're passionate about. If you're going to build a startup with any reasonable shot at success, these are the things you should focused on.

Money is for Grown Ups

Unless you're Gary Vaynerchuck, a kid's view of money is that it's some imaginary thing for adults to play with. Kids aren't trying to come up with some scheme where they never have to work again. They just want to do their thing.

Charlie O'Donnell spoke about this at the NJ Tech Meetup. In his ideal world you: Start a company. Build it. Grow it. And then one day when everything is starting to take off, you magically learn about this thing called venture capital which you've never heard about before. You don't start a company with your first major milestone being to close venture funding. You build something awesome and then you might be ready for VC, but you should never raise capital in hopes of building something awesome.

// Side note: I think it's incredibly important to have revenues from the beginning and if that's not possible at least have very clear monetization plans. That said, too many people just want to raise money instead of focusing on building an amazing business.

If you eliminate all the terrible reasons to start a business from the equation and start thinking like a child, you're off to a good start -- a much better start than I had. At the very least, you're going to have a lot of fun playing with things that genuinely excite the child in you.

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