The Culture of Killing It Could Be Killing Us



When you hang out at a startup event, you often hear the refrain of “I’m killing it” when asked, “how are you doing?” Then there are the variants of “crushing it” and “awesome.” With so much “killing” and “crushing” and “awesomeness,” you might be left with the impression that everyone is on track to stardom. No matter that 9 out of 10 of those founders are captaining sinking ships, it still leaves you less than thrilled at your own progress.

Recently, I read an article about one startup’s own struggles that put into stark contrast the realities of the startup ecosystem. Thus stands one of the great contradictions of the startup world, where failure may be nodded at, but never personally acknowledged. As the article states succinctly:

Silicon Valley is not a place where one is invited to show frailty or despondence. It is, as Nick puts it, “the place where everybody is killing it all the time.” In a place where “failing fast” is all the rage, the idea that one would publicly mention or even suggest there is struggle and missteps and stagnant growth is a nonstarter.

All of this simply ratchets up the pressure on already fragile founder psyches. You can hear the gyrations in one’s mind: “Everybody is killing it, except for me.” The funny thing is that nearly every other founder at that event probably came away with the same impression, all feeling the pit of despair in their stomachs. In this imaginary world, everyone is doing gonzo business and seeing enormous user growth, but the reality however is something starkly different. We are all in various states of fear, uncertainty, chaos and panic, interspersed with the rare bit of relief.

One thing that New York City has going for it compared to Silicon Valley is the spotlight glare less upon startups. There is the breathing room to screw up, to flail around a bit, to get lost for a time because not too many people notice. The New York tech ecosystem does not get the intense scrutiny that it does in the Bay Area precisely because tech is not the only industry. In Silicon Valley, you have no such affordances. You can say you struggled, but only after you sold your company for a billion dollars and wrote a book about it.

Maybe instead of always “crushing it,” we can let our ourselves be a bit more honest with ourselves and others. Keeping it all inside and not having an outlet to release the pent up frustration is a sure path to burnout. You can sustain the long hours, the deals that fall through and the folks that quit unexpectedly. Not getting stuff off your chest though wears you down mentally and accelerates the burn out. Admitting every so often that things suck and venting can be the best thing you can do to clear your mind and move away from angst to focusing on the job at hand.

This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.

Image credit: CC by Patrick Bell

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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