When I look back at the last five years and my three failed businesses, I clearly see why they failed. It had nothing to do with the idea, the customers, or the circumstances (which I always blamed) and had everything to do with my obsession with doing things fast instead of doing things right. I was in a race with myself, and all I was thinking of was the finish line. I quit after the first try because I was looking for a shortcut to success.
But why? Obviously, I'm not the only one, and the more I observe other entrepreneurs, indie hackers, and bootstrappers, I see the same pattern and symptoms of the same mentality. Is it a fundamental problem in the entrepreneurial and startup culture? Or is it about our distorted perspective of reality?
On one side, social media is often misrepresenting reality to paint a sexy, exciting, and adventurous picture. It seems like wanting to launch a startup is the entrepreneurs' version of nowadays teenagers wanting to be Instagram influencers and TikTok celebrities. People are craving overnight glory, fame, and prestige.
On the other side, in Silicon Valley, which many young entrepreneurs look up to, the mainstream approach is: you sell your company, and only then, life begins. An excellent example of that narrative is Rob Fitzpatrick's experience: "I tried to do it with my first company. We went through YC. We raised a bunch of money. We had good customers. We worked our butts off for four years, and we were miserable. We were like, "it's going to be worth it because we're going to get our private island and our helicopter." Then we failed anyway, and suddenly that sacrificed four years didn't feel so good".
It seems like young Rob and I had something in common. We wanted to be entrepreneurs on the surface, but underneath, we saw entrepreneurship as a dark, cold tunnel we have to go through as fast as possible to get to the light on the other side and find the "promised success."
Clearly, that is the wrong motivation for anyone to be an entrepreneur. What is the point of rushing things, lose yourself in that dark tunnel, sacrificing precious years of your life, and then fail anyway? Is there a better way? Well, maybe if we stop looking for shortcuts!
When I listen to unpopular opinions from entrepreneurs like David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), it makes sense. DHH says that Basecamp's version that operates today for tens of thousands of customers, that have been around for 16 years and made over a quarter of a billion dollars, was written at a pace of 10 hours a week. Contrast this with the conventional, hustle-culture wisdom that your business is bound to fail unless you work 80 hours a week.
The point is: you can be an entrepreneur, you can be a startup person, and also have other things in your life. You only need to stop looking for shortcuts. Instead of a tunnel, maybe you should think of entrepreneurship as an escape room. If escaping the room was your only goal, you wouldn't go in there in the first place. You enter the room to challenge yourself, solve problems, have fun with your teammates and hopefully work things out, and escape the room. And if you enjoy it, you would probably do it again, in a different room, different problems, and maybe a different team.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying you should never take a shortcut when an opportunity presents itself. All I'm saying is looking for shortcuts shouldn't be your default. If you recall the Turtle and Rabbit story from your childhood, you probably remember that fast doesn't mean winner. And maybe in world where everyone is trying to be a rabbit, you should be the turtle.