Do You Have to Be Excited by Your Startup?

I read the great annual report by SaaS entrepreneur Patrick McKenzie (known on hacker news as patio11) and he talked about challenges he’s had with not being excited by the problem his startup is solving (note: his startup is called Appointment Reminder and reminds clients of service providers, think doctors, nail salons, etc of their appointments via automated calls as people not showing up is opportunity and revenue lost for those service providers).

About Appointment Reminder, Patrick writes (emphasis mine)

Peldi told me I should do a business which excites me. I told him that Appointment Reminder was a boring problem space but a great business, and that I’d find some challenge in it which was different than what I’d done with BCC (his other business). As it turns out, AR didn’t offer a lot of fun new challenges — it offered the same old been-there-done-that work that BCC had offered, and while doing BCC for the first few years was a form of play, AR was very much work. I often avoided things that would be clearly beneficial for the business just because they were a boring grind, to focus on other things, from the consulting business to my personal life to, well, far too many games of League of Legends.

I’ve recently sunk my teeth into systematizing Appointment Reminder’s sales operations and this is, for the first time in ~4 years, a fun problem to work on for Appointment Reminder. That said, it’s like maybe a 7/10 fun problem. I realized recently that, while I had been saying “Yeah, maybe after I grow Appointment Reminder a little bit and want a new adventure I’ll take investment for it and shoot for the moon”, but intellectually speaking I know what that would have to look like, and it commits me to working for another 5+ years on a product/problem/market segment which, on its best days, is 7/10 in terms of fun.

Life is too short to do that. I certainly do not intend on devoting 90%+ of my career for the next five years to Appointment Reminder, so I won’t take investment for it. (That would be unfair to the investors.) Given that, there’s no harm in sharing the numbers.

Having passion for the subject and problem you’re solving in a startup is one of those cliches of entrepreneurship – “do what you love” – and Patrick openly and honestly talks about this.

His comments got me thinking about my own excitement about CB Insights. My excitement is probably at an all-time high for a few reasons:

  • The subject – When I break it down, our job at CB Insights is to track some of the most innovative, emerging companies and associated technologies, business models and products in the world. Every week, I see at least a few companies in my feeds on CB Insights that make me say wow, that is amazing.  I love the content of what we sell.
  • New problems – There is a ton to do on the product side which I love. But beyond that, we have new problems. Scaling the team, building culture, nailing a repeatable sales process, negative revenue churn, etc. Not all of these problems are as interesting to me as others, but I’m learning a lot with these new problems and think I’ll be a better business person if I figure them out. And figuring out how to hack a problem irrespective of the subject is something that I find very interesting. Part of me goes into these problems thinking I can’t solve them and that motivates me to figure them out. Doing that is very interesting and gratifying.
  • The opportunity – I think we’re moving to a world where data is becoming the basis for more decisions and we’re in some giant markets that will adopt that mantra and we’re well placed to be in it.
  • Winning – I am very competitive.  I see a bunch of old-school industries and players that we can mess with,and I love the idea of them sitting around thinking “Who the fuck are these CB Insights guys?  And where did they come from?”

All that said, I am not sure that being in a boring problem space is a passion killer for me?  The new problems, the opportunity and the potential to win can still be there.  Plus, as they say, there are riches in niches.

All that said, I’m glad that I get to track the subject I do at my job today.

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