Starting a company is hard. Keeping a startup running on an even keel is even harder.
Those circumstances explain why I received the below calendar invite from my friend Brian Armstrong, CEO of the bitcoin startup Coinbase, about a year ago. A notable aspect of the invite, other than the loose allusion to a Saturday Night Live skit (possibly NSFW due to liberally descriptive nouns/adjectives), is that it was for a date two years in the future.
The plan is for a celebratory champagne toast on the Pacific in honor of a little agreement we have, which we call THE PACT.
What was the agreement? Pretty simple. We agreed that no matter what happened, we would not give up on our startups for at least two years. The reality is that our journeys will still just be getting started when this event actually occurs, but at least we’ll be two years into them.
One of the keys to not failing at a startup is to not give up. As goofy as agreeing to drinking champagne on a boat two years from now sounds, it’s actually helped to establish a tangible driver for our pact.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Brian as a friend, fellow Y Combinator founder, office neighbor, and via FundersClub, an investor. Both Coinbase and FundersClub are disrupting decades-old industries. Both have had to address initial market skepticism, initial regulatory questions, and have had to address all the challenges associated with building a new marketplace / transactional technology and bringing multiple ecosystem participants together. It’s fair to say we’ve both had our share of roller-coaster days. While most would say we’ve come a long way and that this ride has trended upward, there will no doubt be more down days ahead for both of us.
I’m sharing this because if you’re a founder, I want you to know you’re not alone. When the going gets really tough, often the best thing you can do is to commiserate and carry on. The dirty secret of every successful startup is just how broken and challenging things are on the inside, particularly in the early days.
Consider forming a pact of your own with another founder you know if you’re both working on something really big. It may be that at the darkest hour, when you’re truly being tested, the only thing that will keep you going is knowing that you can’t give up because you both agreed not to do so.