Last weekend marked the end of one of my favorite things — watching the Olympics and all of the drama and stories of thousands of athletes trying their best to achieve greatness. On Monday, I started 3 days of attending YCombinator Demo Day events which unleash hundreds of entrepreneurs doing what is in many ways the same thing — trying their best to achieve greatness.
The difference from the Olympics and the startup world though, is there isn’t always a medal at the end in startups. The journey keeps going. Like maybe the IPO is comparable to a gold medal, but for any company that is just a milestone moment and they have to keep delivering results publicly every quarter hence. Perhaps a silver medal is getting to private profitability and throwing off cash, or even a great acquisition, but in both cases you wake up the next day and just keep building. And the bronze medal in startups, maybe that is any acquisition at all, even an acquihire, an achievement that you have created some ultimate value even if not what you dreamed of.
But in reality with most startups, there is no final medal stand. There is no point at which you can measure yourself against other competitors and stand on the medal stand hearing your anthem and celebrating. It’s a journey and a process every day to try to make something great and greater that users and customers love. All that matters is getting to enough scale where you have a product people will pay you for (or people will pay you to get attention of your users).
Too often in the places where we talk about companies (tech press / tech twitter / hacker news / etc) I hear either a lot of hype and a lot of snark. The hype comes from people declaring they have the next great thing (eg I’m so good I’m going to win the gold medal!) and the snark comes from anyone who hasn’t shown that success (oh no, you only won a bronze medal, or you didn’t even get a medal, you must be a failure). I think all of this misses the journey.
What’s so powerful in the olympics is the journey athletes take in getting there. They work so hard to be a part of the elite group trying to win a medal. In startups, once you commit to go for it, it’s very hard work to stay the course and work every day to try and make a lasting company. In all cases, win or lose, we should celebrate the journey. It’s not a bad thing if the tech ecosystem and press cheer for the people working as hard as they can to try to make a great outcome. I know I’m excited for all of the companies I meet realizing their dreams, including the many I just met launching at YCombinator. The launch moment is always a great beginning. But the day after and the day after that and beyond is where all the hard work happens. Some will accomplish great things (“medals”) and many won’t quite achieve that level. But even if they don’t, we shouldn’t consider it a “failure”. It’s not — it’s always worth trying and going for it as hard as you can.