A bundle of ROI: Why your startup is not your baby

“It’s my baby” is something we hear a lot in corporate spaces, usually in reference to pet projects. When it comes to founders calling their startups their baby, it gets a little more problematic. With too much emotional involvement comes huge emotional cost, especially when starting up is already so risky.

Startup investor Rishi Taparia sums up the difference between startups and babies pretty well. 

There are no seed rounds for babies, “despite the fact the product has been built already and there are over 7 billion examples of product market fit.”

Jokes aside, comparing the two can be problematic. 

Calling your startup your baby is kind of like naming a farm animal that’s going to slaughter. When your startup has a 90% chance of dying, you probably shouldn’t get that emotionally attached to it.

Our vision is always blurry when it comes to our loved ones. But in business, intense emotional attachments get in the way of clarity and progress. 

If you treat a professional project like you would a pet, you’ll be much less capable of hearing negative feedback, making difficult decisions, and knowing when to cut the cord. 

Why we infantilize our startups

The Startup Chat podcast covered this phenomenon in a recent episode. 

Hosts Steli and Hiten discuss how despite the fact a business is a much more modern, commercial creation than a baby, it’s still a creation. It’s something some founders feel they’ve “birthed” through physical exertion and sheer force of will. So calling it a baby makes some sense. 

But as Steli rightly points out, it means too many founders are ignoring glaring warning signs they need to pack things up. 

“It’s a tough balance to decide when you need to persevere and when you need to call it quits…. These are people who truly believe that they’ve birthed this thing and it’s their child, and they will never let go of it no matter what the world tells them, no matter what the markets tell them, and they’re ruined”.

It doesn’t help that the typical unicorn founder starts their business at 34 – bang in the middle of most peoples’ child-rearing years. 

The association between business and parenthood is understandable when you’re staring down the barrel of both. 

But there are always surprises. The perfect balance of work and home life doesn’t fall into our laps. It’s something we need to figure out through careful thought, and compartmentalisation.  

…and why we shouldn’t

Making the differentiation between the emotional (what really matters) and the professional (what you might care about deeply, but what you can walk away from if you need to) is critical. 

Because we’re not just talking about professional ruin.

Not knowing when to quit has been the mental and physical ruin of many a doggedly determined entrepreneur. 

The stressors associated with hyper-involved foundership like staffing issues, debt and financial pressures, physical neglect and unhealthy coping mechanisms, and negatively impacted personal relationships can quite literally kill you. 

As parents or other kinds of caregivers, we’re naturally selfless. Think of your business as your baby, and you’re much less likely to listen to those alarm bells telling you to take care of yourself. 

You also run the risk of exceptionalism. All parents think their children are special and beautiful and are rampantly biased towards them, as they should be. When we feel we’ve “birthed” our startups, we have a tendency to think they must be special and so are immune to failure. We will also be really, really bad at hearing valid or valuable criticism of them. 

Timing is (almost) everything

We’ve talked before about the importance of timing

The sheer volume and complexity of factors that need to align for your startup’s success make it obvious why so many fail. You need the right team. You need enough funding. Your competitors need to be at just the right disadvantage. Your marketing needs to hit the right note. The technology needs to be ready. Your customers need to be ready. 

What fewer people talk about is the importance of you being ready.

At seed stage, your investors will do what so many founders fail to do for themselves: assess your position in life. 

As much as they’re investing in your business, they’re investing in you as a person. They need to trust that the person at the helm of the ship is capable of steering it. 

You don’t need to show you’re immune to life’s curveballs. You need to show you’re aware they can happen, and what your plan will be when they do.

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