50 Shades of Startup – a newbie founder’s guide to domination

50 Shades of Startup POST


Your heart is pounding. Beads of sweat are rolling down your face. Your muscles feel like they are turning into jelly. Your breath gets shorter and, before you know it, it’s all over. You’ve done it.

You’ve launched.

The startup journey isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need stamina, determination and a genuine desire to go to any lengths to turn your startup into a business that kicks ass. I’ve interviewed many startup entrepreneurs and, now that I’ve recently co-founded SocialCallout.com, I’m back in the heady days of excitement and bliss, where the road ahead may be long – but it seems full of new experiences and adventures.

Fortunately, I’m not a startup virgin. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve founded a few businesses in my time. And the adventure goes something like this …

The Stirring
You can feel it in your body. That itch. The stirring that drives you to an entrepreneurial epiphany. Whether you’ve had a lightbulb moment about an app that’s going to make you millions, or a website that’s going to be the next Facebook, you just know that you have to act on it. To repress it would be dangerous. So you start to explore, talk about what you want to do until, one day, you know there is no going back.

The Scene
Once you’ve made the decision to head into the uncertain startup world, you look for like-minded people. You need to find your tribe so that you feel safe and can learn from people who’ve done it before. After all, this space practically has it’s own language, code, etiquette and emerging archetypes – you need a community to help you make sense of it all.

There are the co-working spaces, the incubators who are kicking goals, the incubators who are just having fun (with lots of beer and pizza), and the incubators so inherently arrogant, so far up themselves, they can’t see daylight. You need to find the right fit for you.

So you search, you have coffees, beers, pizzas, go to meetups, seminars and Silicon Beach drinks. You survey the scene until you are finally ready to talk to people about your stirring (your entrepreneurial idea).

The Connection
Then one day it clicks. There’s chemistry. There’s a connection. It might be with an angel investor or a coder who gets your vision and wants to go on the ride with you. Or perhaps you’ve found your startup soulmate – you might not collaborate in business but you become besties and go on your respective startup journeys together.

The Lessons
Startups were never meant to be easy. And because most startups are forging new ground – creating ideas or producing offerings that have never been served up before – there are no benchmarks. There’s no yardstick against which you can decide what’s “normal”. So you end up determining your tolerance for risk, how much of your company you’re willing to give away to investors and who you will (and will not) answer to. Sometimes, it’s a lesson in self-discovery more than it is a lesson in business.

The Sweat
Along with the lessons comes the sheer hard work. All-nighters, hours spent talking about usability, integration, pivoting and term sheets. And the stress to please everyone – not just your customers but the investors who are looking for a return on their investment. The pressure can be palpable.

The Relief
Then one day you find the winning formula. Maybe you experience the tipping point where your startup finally gets traction and customers begin flooding in. Or you finally convince the right venture capitalists to believe in your vision. Or your startup becomes the focus of a best-selling book or Oscar-winning movie. You’ve arrived.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s all over. You may have ridden the crest of a successful wave and found some temporary relief. But the ebbs and flows of business are never-ending. So brace yourself. The ride is far from over.

Stay tuned for the sequel: 50 Shades of a Fast-Growth Tech Company

About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.
  • http://twitter.com/DigitalSorbet DigitalSorbet

    Hey Valerie, I was a fan of your work before but I just love that you’re now getting involved in the start-up space. I’m going through the motions of a tech start-up now but it’s still in the very early stages. Good luck with your new venture, I have signed up x

    • valeriekhoo

      Thanks so much. Let’s stay in touch and we’ll be able to share war stories!

  • Robin Henry

    I had a wonderful female friend who started out as a geologist (honours graduate), decided to go into training, got a few education degrees and established a training company. She was a top achiever … like you Valerie, but unfortunately, she was a workaholic. Sadly, one Saturday morning while at work at her desk she had a cerebral incident and died apparently within minutes. She may have died at 45 anyway, but I cannot help think that had she taken more time out to live, she may have done things like visit a doctor occasionally, and have lasted a bit longer. The point is, startups are exciting, but life is about balance; don’t forget to take time to enjoy life while scoring goals at work.

    • valeriekhoo

      And that puts things in perspective!

  • http://www.bradley-davis.com/ Bradley

    The last line sums it up and I hope the ride is never over!

    On a side note, please fill out our page titles and descriptions on Social Callout! If you do a search, Google is using your image file names, not a good look.

    • valeriekhoo

      Thanks so much for pointing that out. I’ve alerted the techies and they’re looking into it. Really appreciate it Bradley.

  • Jane Copeland

    I am so looking forward to the sequel! Thanks for sharing Valerie. I’m looking forward to more of your posts on start-ups and also wish you the greatest success in your own new start-up.

    • valeriekhoo

      The first few months of a new venture are always exciting aren’t they. You should know – you’re doing the same thing Jane. Let’s hope that honeymoon feeling keeps on going :)

  • http://twitter.com/Schmiet Diet Schmiet

    I, for one, am looking forward to the sequel!


    • valeriekhoo

      LOL. It’s in the works!

  • http://twitter.com/mrjamesnoble James Noble

    Nice introduction for startups, an idea attempted and failed is better than just an idea.

  • http://twitter.com/mrjamesnoble James Noble

    Nice introduction for startups, an idea attempted and failed is better than just an idea.
    Looking forward to whats to follow!