I always considered myself to be confident, and self-assured (not obnoxious, just confident)...but starting a company is a completely different cup of tea. I have both a Computer Science degree + an MBA. I learned Rails on my own and I thought that would be the hard part. Just to learn that transitioning from hardcore product development to sales & marketing is even trickier than I thought.
When you think about all the promises you have made to people, and things you have sold in various ways, it's perfectly natural to get self-doubt....especially given that things will NOT happen exactly the way you planned. This. Happens. A. LOT.
Self-doubt is one of the most unspoken about aspects of starting a company and I am glad that Ben has so courageously spoken about it so publicly.
If you have never done a startup before, nothing can prepare you for the experience fully. I read every PG essay, most of Founders at Work, almost every other bio/story of most if not all of the tech founders from Fairchild Semiconductors to Facebook, watched dozens - if not a hundred+ - of Mizergy interviews, understand finance & economics (I can explain the differences between a Collaterized Debt Obligation & a Credit Default Swap), also know most of the fine points of the standard term sheet (including to focus less on valuation on more on things like liquidation preferences, etc.), know enough legalese to understand most contracts, I built teams from scratch, recruited people to work with me on a project bigger than myself but under-resourced, hell even worked at another startup before...but having done all of that...I still wake up every morning and there are MANY things that I am tackling for the first time - and it makes me doubt myself.
Most people won't talk about it, but I think we need to start being real with ourselves - for the health of the startup community. Especially for those of us that don't have investors or many mentors, or don't live in the Valley, or are not YC-alums.
So Thank You Ben. For being so honest. For being so real.
I spend all my time in a state of confusion.
But after a while you get used to it, actually. And you just keep going and learn as you go.
I am lucky to have great investors, a strong and friendly board, a few great employees, but like you said, I often am doing things I have no idea how to do.
My one tip to other first-time CEOs: over communicate. I send out a weekly(ish) internal email to my team, board, investors, and advisors. Everyone gets the same email, so there is no bullshitting. The investors love it.
If you are lucky, the self-doubt makes way for self-confidence eventually. Even for completely new things you start thinking, "well, I managed the last few times, it will probably work out OK this time too". I wonder if all the confident people I see starting out just have naive bravado or are very good at hiding their self-doubt.
Dishonesty is dishonesty no matter how you cut it.
Up front in my office or up front in a public blog? I certainly wouldn't want him scaring off potential deals with over-the-top candor.
> Dishonesty is dishonesty no matter how you cut it.
This is a ridiculous assertion. If you walk around saying every true thing that comes into your mind at best you'll be treated like you have Tourette's, and at worst you'll be a complete pariah. Honesty and integrity tend to fall in the "know it when you see it" camp for most people, but the criteria are far from black and white.
I call that a PR win.
Actually, this guy seems to have done pretty well that way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Blanton
"Now, when you come to apply for a job
Don't tell 'em you're homeless
'Cause I promise they won't hire you
And if they like your songs
Just nod your head and play along
Never tell 'em what inspires you
I bet my fans know me better than my friends do
Because my friends don't pay that much attention
The fans memorize every single sentence
Which makes them far too smart to ever start a friendship
I need to start writing pieces about other people's problems
'Cause strangers are starting to get worried
I'm in a hurry to try to slow the system down a bit
And find happiness before I hit thirty"
That said, startups don't need people who like them so much as they need people who trust them. As an investor, customer, or employee, I do need to know that the founder can tell what problems are on the horizon, and is brutally honest about which ones will be challenging. But I also need to know that he'll take care of them, or if not, that he'll hire someone who will (or, if an employee, he'll tell me to do it).
But founders aren't superhuman, and the money involved in successful acquisitions is so high that there are a lot of "companies" working on marginal ideas---ideas that might be big, or they might not, often depending on factors beyond founder knowledge. And at this point I think VC's have to own the responsibility for investing in a high-risk industry.
If I was applying for a job at svpply, I'd be happy that CEO knows what he doesn't know: it's much better then someone thinking they know everything and not having a clue.
He is ultimately doing exactly what he wants to be doing and from the looks of it he is working very hard at solving the issue of not knowing.
And don't worry, his investors knew that he had no idea what he was doing when they wired him the money. If they didn't, it's their own fault. At least he knows what he doesn't know, which is more than I can say for most people.
TBH, you sound like my 75 yr old father that ran a $2B business for the last 23 years, and I guess I hope that attitude goes away with our elders.
Its a slow transition but its becoming acceptable for business to not operate as if they were big brother, and not all communication needs to be double speak, sure the CEO of goldman & sachs isnt going to get away with a blog post like this, but a young bookmarking startup, the only negative reactions are from people saying "this isnt the done way", with actual reason for it being negative.
Yeah, some, perhaps even many, risks get you sunk. On the other side of the coin, nothing we discuss here would exist if people didn't take risks with their businesses.
The world would be so different if no-one took risks. I daresay we wouldn't be making tools, have a knowledge of agriculture, or even have spread out of Africa.
If you're bald you don't get dates by pretending you're not bald... you get dates by not caring that you're bald.
Every CEO was new to the job at some point. So was every founder. What he's saying is no mystery to any of us entrepreneurs. He just happened to have his entry picked up on HN ;-)
(Not to diminish what he wrote, of course - cheers to his honesty!)
Its not really a surprise that when doing something you've never done before, your a little lost. Thats normal.
But the buying public dont want to hear that. It bursts their bubble about CEOs.
I think thenpost was courageous ansnsmart.
If I would be an investor in this guy's company, I'd be really pissed off.
Discussing them openly does have consequences, though. Especially for those following you who may not see it in the same light. As shown in the comments of this thread many are vicious against it and see it as weakness. In my experience, though, those who do share the same frame of mind as the OP (Many of whom are very successful leaders) see it as a strength.
So I partially agree in that perhaps it's wise to keep it to close confidants I disagree that this is something that needs to be rallied against.
It's lonely at the top in a startup. Figuring out where to go can destroy you if you let it. It's like guiding a ship through a thick fog (The doubt) and the only thing getting you through it is the lighthouse (Your determination to never give up and belief in the idea) and the skills you've developed to steer the ship away from the rocks to get to the lighthouse. I'd doubt anyone's ability to get through that if they weren't unsure and constantly questioning themselves. Over-confidence is the killer of great performance.
As as Svpply user, this only makes me want to root for them more. But to be fair, if I were a Svpply employee, my confidence in his vision of the company might waver a tiny bit.
Seriously though, refreshing to hear someone be so honest about what we all go through. Who didn't have panic attacks when they first started out?
I do appreciate the humility and openness.
Nothing says bubble more than this:
A guy with no experience, no vision (at least none he's shared -- perhaps the entire article is some kind of viral PR experiment), gets funded!