Keeping motivation high in a struggling startup

I had the honor of speaking on a panel at AccelerateAB yesterday where someone asked a question to the effect of “How did you keep momentum throughout your startup?”  Here’s an answer given an evening to think about it.

I’m going to assume that at the root of the question was:

In a startup that had so many hard moments, how did we stay motivated and driven to keep grinding it out until finding product market fit?

I think for that, it’s pretty simple.  Almost all of the drive came from one thing.

Pride.  We wanted to win, and were too proud to relent.

We had ample opportunity to demotivate.  We ran out of money several times, had several flops for launches, and our Techcrunch articles never resulted in anything but a few thousand customers who abandoned the service quickly (sometimes because the servers failed to scale, and were now on fire).  We were even kicked out of the country once.

One thing that I think helped us was our ability to execute.  All 3 of us were technical, and Dwayne is without a doubt the fastest / most competent programmer I’ve ever worked with.  If we didn’t have an ability to get up off the mat and quickly, and relatively cheaply to try again, I think it would have been much harder.  This is one of the reasons why I hold so much value for a startup with an ability to execute like mad on product – house.

It sounds great to say that it was pride, our passion to succeed, and our ability to fight back that carried us through the entire journey.  But I’d be lying if I said that was it.  As bad as it sounds, I think that there were a few rare moments where we wanted to quit, and where motivation was really low.   But what motivated us in those situations was simply a fiduciary responsibility we felt for our investors.  I remember talking about this at length with Rod, in particular the personal pressure he was feeling.

When you raise money, you raise money from a fund.  Your investor (unless it’s an angel) isn’t investing their own money.  But yet, at least for me, it’s impossible to not feel a personal connection and responsibility to the man / woman investing in your company.  I think people need to be aware of this when raising money.  It’s something you hear mentioned, but probably not enough.

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