Being an entrepreneur is a lumpy business at best. And while I’ve written extensively about the mortality rate (95%), I’ve never written about how hard it is along the way for those 5% destined for greatness.
It ain’t easy, and it ain’t easy on everyone.
This is a basket of Ramen Noodles and Peanut Butter, presented on my Birthday by a very appropriate, thoughtful entrepreneur I backed; Xin Chung. Xin certainly has the moral authority to present the gift: he was liberated from Saigon as a child, spent time in an internment camp, and grew up in Valdez Alaska before settling into SoCal and pursuing his dreams as an entrepreneur. He is now Founder and CEO of TrustCloud which has emerged from a “walk in the wilderness” with 10k passionate users and a growing number of interested clients in the social check space.
The Ramen and PBJ is our shorthand for being capital efficient, a must for start-ups.
My system at Vaux usually provides $250k of less for a team to develop a product that addresses a meaningful market problem, and do it within 90 days or so. This means most for the proceeds are dedicated to product. The next $250k usually goes to determining if anyone cares. The numbers vary, but either way the Founders and early employees do not get rich in salaries off of angel money. Frankly, they have to be prepared to barely eat, and when they do eat for strength. This is part of the ugly underbelly – and not a full underbelly! – of the dedication it takes to pursue your dreams. Every dollar you don’t waste can go to a better product or a better viral coefficient.
And of course, stuff takes longer than you expect. And costs more money than planned. This puts tons of pressure on the entrepreneurs as they debate the next crucial steps, often on an empty stomach. Probably once in my last 10 start-ups has a company got it right, right out of the box and kept doubling down all the way. Most try with a product, revamp, try again, tweak, and try again until there’s no track left. And it leads to some very difficult conversations about where to invest precious resources: make the product better and more people will come… or tell more people about the product and they will spread the word. Development vs. Marketing vs. Biz Dev. It often provokes difficult conversations, and sometimes desperate measures (these guys slept in a van on a Biz Dev road trip that lasted months).
And so the entrepreneurs themselves, while pursuing their dreams of autonomy, making a mark on the universe and yes winning riches, have to absorb the vagaries of what precious resources to assign where… including their own sustenance. I get queasy when I hear comparisons to the comp someone could make in the corporate world, which simply doesn’t apply in start-up-ville. And I get nauseous when I hear debates about how deep down the rabbit hole start-ups should go pursuing the next pivot (which is another term for fail and try again). Luckily angels don’t have that much patience or that much capital for endless restarts. Which is why, when interviewing prospective partners I always look for that unique combination of resourcefulness, willingness and mental toughness that will see us through. And a dose of reality to know when to put a fork in it.
Entrepreneurship is not a straight line to the summit, it’s a jagged ascent and we have to be prepared for the whole ascent not just the sprint at the top.
Save runway: TrustCloud’s sample T&E guidelines
Use personal credit card; expense every month with invoice. Avg trip: 2nts/3days, $800, $1000max
1. Air: economy $250
2. Ground: $25/day
3. Lodging: Airbnb $50/nt
4. Entertainment: $75/day
5. Badges: pre-approved
6. Big dinners: pre-approved