Startups are Like Diets



There was a time when it seemed as though there was a new diet every week. The most memorable one, at least for me, was the Atkins Diet. The Atkins Diet, I feel, started the craze. People started to realize that you can make a lot of money by creating a diet backed by “science” and “facts” from doctors who wanted to be associated with it and/or back it. Each one had their remedies — lose weight, lower cholesterol, increase libido, put on muscle mass or increase energy. That diet craze is pretty much how I feel about startups now.

Like the latest diet or cleanse (which are cool now?) of the month, there is some startup trend based on what seems to be hot right now. Also, as part of my analogue, I think the mentality and motivation behind each one can be comparative as well.

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and have never dieted or cleansed myself. This is just a fun comparative of two seemingly unrelated topics :)

So hot right now!

Last year I was hanging with my friend and she was doing the “Master Cleanse”. It consists of only drinking water, syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper 6 times a day for 10 days. It took all my energy not to laugh or respond with something sarcastic because, well, we were friends and I support most endeavors my friends undertake. Sound familiar? So to be nice, I told her to make one for me and we drank it together.

It seems as though there are health crazes, diets and cleanses popping up everywhere. The same thing happens in the startup world when things get hot — i.e. Uber, Tinder, Pinterest and AirBnB. Most investors cringe when you describe your company as such -though it does help to better understand what you do. The point is that there are trends. People want to take advantage of what’s cool right now and ride the wave.

You can do it!

People tend to do a diet for a specific reason. They want to lose weight, feel better or they’re just doing it because everyone else is. Regardless of the reason, your friends, family and community (if you do it with others) are there to support you -at least in the beginning.

Some of the reasons I hear from people who choose to pursue a startup are:  it’s the “cool” thing to do, they want to make a lot of money, because they hate their job, or, they want to be famous. Depending on your stage in life, friends, family (and fools) will be there to support you financially. They may share it with their friends so that they too can support you and talk about you at dinners (how nice!).

You’re in it for the long haul

We all know that saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, right? Well, Twitter was a seven-year “overnight success”. Regardless of what you read in the media and what people tell you, this isn’t going to be easy! If it was, everyone would do it, right? Though lately, it seems like everyone is.

So you made it past the initial steps, you cut back on certain foods, planned out your meals for the next week and are 100% committed. F@$%!! What have I gotten myself into!?

I always tell everyone I meet who wants to start a company not to quit their day job. Why? Because they probably won’t have enough to do to keep themselves busy and will just be spinning their wheels for a while. Keep it as a side hobby. Slowly work into it, so it’s not cold turkey or a sudden cliff you’re jumping over. When the water’s cold, you put your feet in one at a time and kind of warm up to it before diving in headfirst.

At this point though, you’re just out of the gate, you’re on your own and you need to keep yourself motivated. Your friends and supporters that were there for you at the beginning will be there when you need them but trust me, they will get tired of your constant updates and only have so much time for you. Hopefully, you ventured on this journey with a partner or a team, that way, you can at least suffer together.

Results may vary

You have this concept in your mind of a scenario in which you perfectly execute your ideas -no matter what anyone tells you. If everything always worked out as planned, a lot more people would do it.

When you start out on your journey you should have some tough goals set and probably some delusional thoughts as well. If you’ve never done this before and this is your first time, it will definitely be a learning experience and a lot of unexpected things are about to happen.

Unfortunately, about 99% of startups will fail and I’m sure a high percentage of diets as well. Regardless of what you read in the press or what celebrities tell you, what you know about is only a very small subset of what’s actually out there. Why? Because the things you don’t know, you don’t know

Who knew that eating prepared meals of healthy food 3x a day with no snacks or candy would be hard? Who knew that incorporating a company has tax consequences? Or that hiring a development team and building a product would take so long, and that people who said one thing, would do another? You need to realize that this isn’t an A -> B sprint but something that needs to become part of your day-to-day routine.

Beat the odds

Let’s be honest, startups are in the business of failure and certain diets just aren’t natural. You’re going to have a lot of hard decisions to make, from taking on technical debt in order to ship your product on time or have a cheat day because it’s your friend’s birthday or a big football game.

You don’t need to be a hero and do everything right as long you learn from your mistakes. We tell entrepreneurs, “If you’re going to fail, fail fast”- which I think is completely absurd for multiple reasons. When you’re “failing,” you either don’t want to admit it and give up or you just don’t realize it -which is sometimes worse. This is when experience really helps and hindsight sucks.

So, will money, press, time or trends increase your odds? We’ll find out. No matter what I write, don’t let anything deter you.




Reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: CC by Dennis Skley

About the author: Trace Cohen

Managing Director of New York Venture Partners making angel investments in the best startups/founders. NYC, Whiskey, Bacon, ‘Cuse Alum.

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