When I first went to work for Monolithic Memories my boss, Ivan Pesic, told me, “It will be rough for the next two months and then it will get easier.” He was still telling the team that a year later when someone else offered that advice during a problem solving session and we all broke out laughing because we realized it was never going to get easier. We kept working on harder problems. Ivan went on to found Silvaco and despite a few legal setbacks built a company that has endured more than three decades.I was reminded of his phrase during an interesting conversation with an entrepreneur after yesterday’s Bootstrapper Breakfast. She had been in business for perhaps 18 months and had gone full time about 8 months ago. She had closed small deals with Intel, Nokia, and Google as well as a number of other Silicon Valley firms. Her customers were happy and she enjoyed what she was doing. But she wanted to know when she would become a success and it would get easier.
Your Startup Never Gets Any Easier
I told her that she was already a success. She had a number of paying customers and she liked what she was doing. But the bad news was, “Your startup never gets any easier, you just become better at managing the risk and uncertainty. As you grow you take on larger risks, proportional to your size. If you don’t grow there are problems there as well. If you are growing fast you attract competition and as you get larger you face better organized and well funded competition.”
There are two phrases that don’t mean what many entrepreneurs believe they do:
- Product-Market Fit: this means you have proof of value in your market. But it is an easily reversible condition, as customer needs change, altered by competitive actions and broader evolutions in the technology landscape or evolving consumer tastes.
- Rapidly Growing: also called Rapidly Scaling, Viral Growth, and “Inside the Tornado.” This is never a pleasant condition inside the company. It’s certainly preferable to bankruptcy or not enough demand but it’s not easy to manage.
My point is not that you should not rejoice when you have proof of value–sales become easier, prospects have heard of you–or that a sharp increase in real inquiries and prospect interest is not something to aspire to. It’s that it just changes the nature of the problems you have to manage.
Related Blog Posts
- For more on Ivan Pesic see John Cooley’s “In Memory of Ivan Pesic of Silvaco (1951 – 2012)” and The EDA Old Guard remembers Ivan Pesic’s “colorful” personality
- Product Market Fit is a Fraction Not a Bit
- Ben Yoskovitz Product Market Fit and Lean Analytics
- Product Market Fit Metrics
- Mission Often Matters More Than Monetization In the Early Market
- Amar Bhide: Start With Affordable Bets in Markets Too Small to Interest Large Players
- The Likely Consequences of Entrepreneurship Require Perseverance