Surviving the startup roller coaster


It has been almost 18 months for me as an entrepreneur in the startup world. This isn’t a tremendous amount of time, but it is enough to begin understanding the lifestyle.

They say entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. And man, are they right.

I have already had my share of emotional highs and lows. It is crazy. You can be on a high one day, and hit a low on the next day. In fact, it can switch multiple times within the same day. Aside from those days, many of the days are simply a grind. Over time, the grind wears away at you, and feels like a low. All in all, there have been more lows than highs; enough that the lows have thoroughly tested the limits of my natural optimism.

Fortunately, I think I have figured out how to survive, and even thrive in this lifestyle. The trick lies in your mind within that space between the stimulus and your response. We all experience the highs and lows. What makes the difference is how we respond to them.

Know which ride you are on.

Let us look at two riders on the proverbial roller coaster.

Rider A hops onto the roller coaster. Click, click, click.  As the ride takes her higher and higher, she begins to get nervous. And it keeps going up! If only it could go down so that the drop wouldn’t be as bad. All of a sudden there is a drop. Whooosh! She freaks out and shrieks. The coaster continues through twists and turns, shaking her and rattling her. By the time the ride of over, she breathes a sigh of relief, and is glad she survived.

Rider B hops onto the same roller coaster. Click, click, click. As the ride climbs up, she looks up, in awe of how high she is. The first big drop occurs, and she throws her hands up, and lets out a scream of happiness and excitement. She leans into the twists and turns, and relaxes her body when the ride gets shaky. When the ride is over, she is exhilarated, and wants to ride again.

See the difference?

Rider A, the novice entrepreneur, is passive and lets the massive dips get the best of her emotions. It is as if she doesn’t know which ride she is on, and is surprised at each twist and turn.

Rider B, the more enlightened entrepreneur, knows what’s up and knows what ride she is on. She didn’t choose the carousel, ferris wheel, or the spinning tea cups. She chose the big bad roller coaster, and expects it to be one hell of a ride.

The key to surviving the startup roller coaster is to set the right expectations and go in with the right mindset. There is nothing special or surprising about the highs and the lows. They just happen to be a part of the ride you are on.

Know that it is a long grind.

Now I know what you are thinking:

“Alex, that is a great story and all, but coming out of the roller coaster exhilarated? Yeah right!”.

I know, I know… like most analogies, it isn’t perfect.

Perhaps this is a better analogy: the startup lifestyle is more like continuously riding the big bad roller coaster for years, with no end in sight.

At first, it can be pretty damn exhilarating. Over time, it is just a grind. If you can’t handle it, your physical and mental health will probably deteriorate to the point where you have to get off the roller coaster.

18 months into my ride, I can assure you that is definitely what it feels like: long grind with many drops, twists, and turns. And that is only 18 months in! I can only imagine it being worse in a few years.

Still, the solution is similar. The trick is to manage your expectations and your mindset going into the whole thing.

If you expect every ride to be exciting, tough luck.

If you expect it to be a grind, and adjust your emotional response accordingly, you may just and survive the ordeal. You may even figure out how strong you are and learn to thrive on this roller coaster.

It is about desire, not passion.

I came across an article today  (which inspired me to write this post) with an amazing Thomas Keller quote. For those who don’t know, Thomas Keller is the master chef behind The French LaundryPer Se and Bouchon.

He describes how excellence is about desire, not passion:

“It’s not about passion. Passion is something that we tend to overemphasize, that we certainly place too much importance on. Passion ebbs and flows. To me, it’s about desire. If you have constant, unwavering desire to be a cook, then you’ll be a great cook. If it’s only about passion, sometimes you’ll be good and sometimes you won’t. You’ve got to come in every day with a strong desire. With passion, if you see the first asparagus of the springtime and you become passionate about it, so much the better, but three weeks later, when you’ve seen that asparagus every day now, passions have subsided. What’s going to make you treat the asparagus the same? It’s the desire.”

– Thomas Keller

It isn’t about the excitement or the passion.

It is about having the desire to create something of value in the world.

You hop onto the endless startup roller coaster because you must. It is the only way to satisfy this desire to create. And because you know what ride you are on, you know that there will be highs and lows. The dips, twists, and turns won’t stop. So, you lean into them, and you don’t let them shake you. You don’t intend to stop either. Your only expectation to grind it out, and move the needle forward, day by day.

P.S. This is post number #10 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Check out my current project Soulmix, your daily mix of food for the soul. Request an invite now for free access to the private beta!

3 thoughts on “Surviving the startup roller coaster

  1. Why I write | Alex Shye

  2. hi alex

    i liked this article, and liked the fact that youre challenging yourself to write a 100 articles even more! good on you!
    im in a similar situation.. my new startup has been going for the last 5 months.. and only when i stand back and look at the progress from day 1, can i admit that things are moving.. most times, like today for example, i feel as if i have achieved absolutely nothing, while the whole world has got ahead!
    we’re very close to launching the first prototype… thats the only good news.. the bad news is that i lost my first deal on getting an investor to plug in some cash. the reason that hurts so much is because if i cant find a way to pay the bills, i have to spend lesser time on the startup and more time selling out for crap work.

    it is a god damned roller coaster ride! never give up.

    • Hey Shreyas! Glad to hear you liked the post, and good to hear a bit about your startup journey. It is definitely a long grind — I’ve been at it for a little longer than you and nothing has changed much. There are still the ups and downs. And imagine they may only get larger with traction and/or investment dollars.

      Good luck on launch and thanks for dropping by! 🙂

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