MY KNEES HURT BUT I'M STILL QUICK
Startup life is a crazy kind of grind; you go from crunch to crunch and it can be pretty much all you think about all the time. I’m not asking for anyone to cry for me mind you, the insane pressure and the gigantic slices of gibbering risk are our choice. We put ourselves in this place and we do so for many reasons.
Personally, and I can’t even speak for my cofounder Rocky here, my motivation is two-fold: on the one hand, I like that I get to be responsible for both the successes and for the failures, that this thing rises and falls on the choices I make; on the other hand, I have a burning passion for the idea, and I mean an intensity like love and hate. I like being in the hot-seat but I like creating something new even more.
Rocky and me though; we’re older founders, though both of us also founded successful consultancies and ran them for twenty years each. Both those businesses could sometimes generate six figure salaries and do so at staggeringly high margins and tiny overheads but they were fun one-man-bands effectively. Now, we’re building out a $200m idea, with investors and expectations and people who’s ability to pay their mortgages comes partially down to us making good choices.
And we have something else too: families we love and want to hang out with. 85% of startups like ours fail, to be one of the 15% your business must be exceptional, both by definition as well as mathematically. Some advisors will tell you ‘don’t even think about the 85%, once you do then you’re accepting that you might be one of them’ but I feel differently; I want to know those 85%, I want to understand their mistakes and their weaknesses and build bulwarks against those. Classic books like Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, help do that by dissecting their own failures as well as charting their successes. I’m learning from them how to plan and structure Uncrowd’s success. Those bulwarks and schemes are numerous but within them is an acceptance of our differences from younger free and single founders, differences that we are learning to convert into strengths.
Y Combinator’s Paul Graham famously said something along the lines that working with founders over the age of 38 was pointless because they didn’t have sufficient energy. Frankly, as great an achievement as YC is; PG can go do one because if our energy levels are less, and I don’t think they are, we are a million times faster at all of the thinking and building parts of the job. We know the world too, we have mature networks and the easy confidence to work them. More, we know we’re good and we’re proven. I can stand in front of any audience and pass on half hour of inspiring knowledge with passion and intensity on thirty-seconds notice. And enjoy doing it. I couldn’t do that at 22. Oh I’d have blagged and winged it then but the difference today is that I know what the heck I’m talking about. Rocky too has the confidence and the knowledge to craft an engineering narrative that is breath-taking and good without even breaking a sweat. He knows what he knows he knows!
The critical thing both of us have carried into our 40s is endless curiosity and completely open minds. I think it’s part of why we get on so well because though iron-stubborn and laser-focused when we get to a solution; both of us are happy to explore and test and ask questions and listen while we get there. We love new things, we’re both obsessed with gadgets and videogames, science and the mechanics of things. At the same time we’re also optimistic about how the world has changed, is changing and will change around us. That combination means we see the world as a ball of constant opportunity and we see change as exciting and refreshing.
We both also have young children as well as older ones. My eldest daughter bought her own flat recently and my youngest kid showed me his own poo this morning. That’s the spread, toddler to twenties. The two year old can now reliably make Alexa fart; an achievement of which both he and I are deeply proud.
Ezra John Shackleton Hammond (poo not pictured)
I think it’s our young, curious, demanding and lively children that provide us with something few of the fresh-faced university founders can get near to: an understanding that the world works best, that ideas are at their most powerful when they are real and practical and HUMAN.
So Rocky and I have structured our blood, sweat and tears startup adventure so that our rightful place among the 15% is won in the context of holding family and human values close. We’ve extended that to the family that comprises Uncrowd itself too. As Horowitz found when he had to let half his team go and ask the other half to pull a horribly aggressive working stint, at a point when his business was make-or-break; honesty, sharing the load, caring about each other and respecting and fighting together creates a magical ability for those teams to do more with less and better.
Part of that is enshrining time with our loved ones, especially our partners and our children. They are the point of all this. Both our families, the ones we made from love and the one we’re building as the Uncrowd family are the point of all this.
That picture at the top of the blog? That’s team Uncrowd hanging out last weekend at the Bloodstock Heavy Metal festival. We did the whole four days, even though there were a hundred things we could have spent that precious time on. We pretended Uncrowd were a vintage rock band, hence the t-shirts and slogans, dined out on that. We shared a big tent together, drank to excess, ate to excess, laughed to excess and had a huge slice of fun together. We talked shop for half an hour on the first day and not again right through to the end.
Here’s the magical bit; coming back this week we have, as a team, accelerated and already in three days delivered some of our best work so far. We also learnt that our star engineer, Craig, is pathologically disturbed by lost balloons floating away. Like all the best families, we will torment him with that, even as he plays a key role in delivering product that will change the way retailers relate to customers forever.