Founders Need Rock Hard Abs

Posted on November 25, 2009. Filed under: startups, Uncategorized, venture capital | Tags: , , |

There are two primary reasons why a founder needs rock hard abs:

1) working out of cafes and apartments, hunched over 12″ screens in shitty chairs with improper lumbar support is NOT good for your posture.  A strong core will help…

2) in the early stages of building a company, it is absolutely essential that you learn how to take a punch to the gut.

I have two close friends from Dartmouth who got flown out to the Valley this past weekend for final round interviews with Y Combinator.  Y Combinator is basically a hybrid venture capital firm/startup boot camp. A couple of times a year, they “admit” a class of very early stage startups, give them small dollars and a ton of advice and resources, and essentially groom them into venture-financable companies.  It is a spectacular head start for first time entrepreneurs, who give up less than 10% of their companies, and graduate with an embedded network and a sharper set of skills to go make it happen.

I just got the news that said friends didn’t make it in.  I thought for a few minutes about the implications of this data on the trajectory of their company, and realized that the actual value lost in that opportunity is minimal (a near commodity), but only if they replace that opportunity with something comparable, or even more valuable.  Is Y Combinator a great head start? Sure.  But so is the participation of some professional angels, or an early stage seed fund, or one of the 6 other clones of Y Combinator that have popped up in the last two years (Techstars, Dreamit, etc..).

BUT, it is not this value lost that poses the greatest threat to their business.  The real danger lies in the impact that bad news has on a company’s culture, founders’ state of mind, rate of progress, and general confidence.  After two months of product development, business planning, and strong forward momentum, my friends just got their first real “punch to the stomach.”  And that, by the way, is exactly what bad news feels like when you are starting out.  So much of your effort. time, and identity is wrapped up in this creation, that bad news can actually have a physical impact on founders.  Much like getting dumped by a woman you love, entrepreneurs will speak of a pain in their stomach or chest that they just can’t shake.

So much of early success comes from founders evangelizing their efforts, and sharing their company with anyone who will listen.  Momentum plays a huge role in a founder’s ability to do so, insofar as it is a lot easier to sell a vision that you passionately believe is going to come true, than it is to sell that same vision in a time of personal doubt.  Customers, partners, investors, friends, and family can smell that doubt in a founder’s mind.  This reality provides a positive feedback loop which furthers the doubt, and so on and so forth.

The same is 100% true for positive data…and therein lies one of the most important lessons I have learned about starting a company: No matter how bad the news, it is essential that you absorb that blow, deal with the immediate implications, and then do anything you can to generate some good news.  The faster you can cut off that positive feedback loop, and shift the momentum of your company back in the right direction, the better chance you have of replacing that “lost value” with something of comparable or greater value.  It is your responsibility as a founder, to turn this corner faster than everyone else in your company, and let them draft off of your forward momentum.

None of this is an argument for denial of the facts, and believe me, hindsight is 20/20 (there were days in Untitled Partners where I was not able to do this fast enough), but I think this skill, of taking a punch, and getting back up fast, is one of the most important to develop in a founder’s tool kit.  And there is no “faking it.”  You can’t just throw a smile on top of negative energy and sell everyone on “the positives.”  It is about actually addressing bad news, developing methods to accelerate your personal recovery time, and then quickly taking steps to right the ship.

Think about how many times Rocky gets pummeled in that fight with the giant Russian dude who killed Apollo.  Every time he gets knocked down to the mat, he gets back up faster…and at some point…the dude that’s throwing all the blows get’s tired, a window of opportunity emerges, and that’s when Rocky is able to start landing his jabs.  Momentum shifts, the crowd rises to their feet, the right kind of positive feedback loop commences, and he achieves the impossible.  Next time you watch that movie, take a look at Sly’s abs…rock hard, baby.  Team Data Owl…start doing crunches.  how fast can you flip this switch?

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12 Responses to “Founders Need Rock Hard Abs”

RSS Feed for Jordan Cooper's Blog: startups, venture capital, etc… Comments RSS Feed

A lot of people seem to be reading this, so I’ll take a second to shamelessly say: We’re hiring at JumpPost. 1) Brilliant engineer turned marketer with a passion for analytics and an understanding of the relationship between marketing and product, 2) VP of Product (see post:

Great article. One caveat…it’s important to know when to give up on one venture and move on to the next.

If you get too good at harnessing positive energy and shrugging off the bad, you may end up toiling at an unsuccessful startup for years.

Love it. You’re right, entrepreneurs do need rock hard abs. It’s actually interesting, I’ve just recently realized that every time I’m in startup mode, I naturally tend to workout more. Helps me concentrate better and boosts energy at the time you need it most. Regarding, seed money and startup success, I think one of the key factors entrepreneurs often forget is context and location. If there’s not a strong entrepreneur community (ecosystem) in your area, you’re chances for success are diminished.

thanks for sharing.

My opinion on ycombinator denial is that I am running a business, not creating a team just to win certain competitions. YCombinator has a certain type of company they like to work with and not everyone is a good fit. It shouldn’t matter at all, since at the end of the day you should be going out there and selling, not working to get accepted into a club.

This year I started focusing on fitness (completing an Ironman 70.3) and would say my work ethic was strengthened by my training ethic. Your points are correct, my posture is better and I’ve learned to deal with setbacks.

Above all, learned that both are a blast and don’t have finish lines.

Andrew, congrats on your Ironman!!! That’s awesome.

I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts but also believe they apply in exactly the same way to any professional.

Great post Jordan, start-ups take guts.. strong guts.

An interesting take on the world of business and the rough and tumble.
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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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