The problem with referees is that
they know everything about the rules
but nothing about the game
– Bill Shankly
Itʼs 3.22am on a Friday night. Iʼve woken up regularly at this time for a while now, itʼs peak hour for the swirl of things in my mind Iʼve somehow managed to quieten for another time. The unregulated thoughts that run free when you least need them to. The business problems that busyness helps you to swerve are often prominent. The jaw pain you donʼt like. The tightness in your chest you like even less. The suicide. The murder. The other suicide.
Tonight itʼs a particular bugbear thatʼs got me burning the midnight oil.
Iʼm really not a fan of being called negative.
This week Iʼve helped quite a few people along professionally (or at least tried to) and put my neck on the line in a significant way at least once in doing so. Itʼs hurt a lot, itʼs been hard. Next week Iʼm likely going to do the same thing. And likely the week after that too. And Iʼll get people in my network helping me in return. And Iʼll also get damned by some for being honest, that happens regularly.
“Negative!?!!” says my 3am brain.
I employ people. Iʼve co- founded a charity. Iʼve been instrumental in getting a feature film to production without so much as a thanks in the credits. Iʼve helped to save a persons life. Iʼm remaking a game in the hope that lots of people get to enjoy it like I did when I was a kid. Iʼve co-founded two startup accelerators to try to help nascent startup businesses to get on their feet without ever personally banking a penny from either, quite the opposite in fact. Iʼm great at ideas, Iʼve only met a few people as good as I am at that.
Next week could also be among the worst weeks of my life personally. Iʼm particularly afraid of and worried about next week. Itʼs going to be very very hard, maybe the hardest. But Iʼm going to soldier on and continue to help where I can. Iʼm lucky, I have great support around me both personally and professionally.
And yet here I am justifying myself to myself because of a comment from a guy Iʼve met once for less than five minutes who made a comment about what Iʼm involved in being negative.
Iʼve had this 3am before about a decade ago. Then ‘negativeʼ meant that what we were doing was free to challenge the status quo. Free to be open. Free to be truthful when it had to be. Not tied to strange, alien notions nor a skewed version of what was required. Not agenda driven (it later would be.)
It was Free. Open. Honest. Expert. And worst of all in Northern Ireland, that most devilish of all the things, risky.
And therefore in the minds of those who believed that they were in control it was negative. Things were fine. Nothing needed to change. Pointing out the negative outcomes of how things were then was deemed negative to make sure that those outcomes were allowed to continue. There were a few people with vested interests in those negative outcomes. Therefore the double negative. The Doublespeak.
Almost the most negative act I can think of is not speaking up when you know you should. Worse still is ignoring or participating in what you know in your heart is wrong. Worse still again is trying to profit from what you know is wrong.
The journey of a startup founder is fucking hard and only those who have been there or are currently there know just how hard it is. Some people have witnessed how hard it is. Some have heard how hard it is.
Some donʼt care how hard it is, theyʼre not actually part of it even though they may appear to be. No matter what these people must not be allowed to affect your journey, in fact itʼs part of your job as the founder to identify them and weed them out as quickly as possible. Blast radius. Damage control.
They take all guises. Advisers, consultants, investors, fund managers, mentors, friends, foes, colleagues.
They almost certainly will not be part of your success but they could contribute to your failure, not least through bad advice but often by slowing you down or burdening you with their rules, relegations and risk- averse mentality. You know that little voice in the back of your mind that says maybe youʼre not the right person to do this? They amplify that. They make you doubt your gut.
Fuck their rules, fuck their conservatism, fuck their risk aversion, fuck their opinions and most of all fuck their approach to life. They donʼt get it. They never will. Theyʼve never seen a problem they want to try to solve or if they have they passed on trying to do so. They need you to bank a pay cheque, you donʼt need them for anything.
How do you identify these people? Itʼs all about alignment.
What’s at risk?
Your wife, your kids, your partner, your significant other, not least of all yourself. All of these peopleʼs future success and wellbeing is directly tied to your ability to turn your startup into a viable and ideally valuable business. Your immediate family must be aligned with you and bought into the journey. Thatʼs essential.
Your co-founder(s), your staff and your customers all of whom lose out in a big way if your startup fails. Your investors. Hereʼs a biggy. Are your investors directly aligned and dependent on your ability to return their investment? Do they lose their own money if you fail? If they donʼt you will only get money from them and nothing else.
Are they incentivised to help? Do they have enough time and experience to help? Do they have enough skin in the game to care about you and your journey? Do they have contacts? Will they open doors for you?
If they are a fund do they need to achieve exits in order to be able to raise their next fund? Do they get paid as a percentage of exits or do they just take fees? If they donʼt take carry why would they bother going through the pain of pursuing exits, itʼs really really bloody hard work and it takes awesome effort from everyone involved in the company to get there. Does this fund tender for a contract every five years? What happens if they donʼt get their contract renewed?
What happens if their contract is subject to a legal challenge and therefore everything is in limbo for an unknown amount of time? Where does that leave you? That doesnʼt happen in other places, thatʼs a fucking crazy scenario unique to Northern Ireland and can only be the case with funds using government money. Is that a legitimate risk? Are you gambling your families future on a government contract? Thatʼs waaayy too much risk for me.
Your accelerator (if youʼve decided to try one.)
- Is your accelerator aligned with your future outcomes? Are they with you for the long haul
or are they fulfilling a contract that may not get renewed? Are they a not for profit organisation who
couldnʼt share in your future success even if they wanted to?
- Are they being honest with you, really fucking honest because thatʼs the most important
thing they can do for you. Do they know how important it is to be completely open and transparent?
- Are they sharing their experiences or are you just another warm body in a seat making up
a quota? How do you know if youʼre succeeding or failing?
- Are you in a startup accelerator? Do the people operating it understand what is different
about startup companies? Is it actually an accelerator? Are you quickly moving towards a known outcome?
- Does you accelerator share in your future success? If not they canʼt devote the time
required to help you get there.
- The acid test for all of this is “is this person in the business of startups? Is their
future success directly tied to the success or failure of startups? Or would they get paid anyway?”
Sign on the line with those who are aligned with your goals, you have no time for anything else.
Youʼve a problem to solve and a business to create for Christʼs sake. Thatʼs enough.
Above all be free to speak your truth.
This is my truth, come down to Raise any time and tell me yours.