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The ten year entrepreneur

It’s easy to get lost in the celebration of high flying companies that quickly take an idea to market, scale and sell. It’s exciting, financially lucrative and makes for great reading. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a few companies like that in the Foundry portfolio (Zynga, AdMeld and Gist all went from idea to sale/IPO in a relatively short period of time). But the reality is that most companies take years (and years and years) to develop – the average time from company founding to exit event is now approaching 10 years. And in many respects, being a great entrepreneur isn’t about coming up with company ideas and executing against an initial product spec. Its really about the perseverance, dedication and stubbornness that is required to see a company from that point just after the initial exuberance of getting a product into market and having a few people use it, through the realization that building a scalable business is going to be really freaking hard (I called this period the “trough of disillusionment in a post years back), to the point where you (hopefully) have proved the skeptics wrong and despite the obstacles, mistakes and miscalculations find yourself with a real scale business.

Years 3-10 in a business are the real heart of entrepreneurship. Figuring out how to scale an organization, realizing that you need to bring in a set of managers above many of your initial key executives, playing with product market fit that you thought you’d already figured out 10 times, going through a downsizing of the business after you ran a bit too hot, having a co-founder leave, trying um-teen different sales and marketing ideas as you struggle to create a scalable sales model, all the while trying to make sure you don’t run out of money in the process. This is the meat of company building. And it’s hard. And messy. And rarely pretty.

So here’s to those entrepreneurs who are toiling away because they truly believe passionately in what they are doing and are going to make their idea a success whatever it takes. Building a business is crazy hard. You’d have to be half insane to even think about trying. So kudos to those who are out there toiling away at it. You are the real stars of the entrepreneurial world!

May 8th, 2013     Categories: Company Creation, Founders     Tags: , ,
  • http://www.biggerpockets.com Joshua Dorkin

    Seth – Thanks for celebrating the unheralded group of entrepreneurs out there that toil day in and out to build their companies. As one of those people, I have to tell you that I definitely appreciate the recognition . . . it is rare that companies become overnight successes, yet those are the ones that we celebrate.

    Here’s to the rest of us!

    • http://www.sethlevine.com sethlevine

      here here!

      • http://twitter.com/TheBayesian Bjorn Jonsson

        I was listening to Nassim Taleb talking at Stanford the other day and from what I could understand, one of his key messages was that society should show great respect to “fallen entrepreneurs” (his words) as we as a society generally don’t really know what will benefit us and take us forward and therefor we really need the armies of entrepreneurs who never make it in order for randomness to do its thing. Its not a grateful job today to be a struggling entrepreneur, but that might change in the future :) ….cheers guy’s!

  • http://www.facebook.com/benbuie Ben Buie

    Thanks for the post. I’m still early in my career, but I’m looking forward to being one of those entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t mind being the high flying type either. :)

  • Braydon Johnson-McCormick

    Seth – thank you so much for this post celebrating the rest of us. As a founder who is re-scaling up after going a touch too far and retrying our market and finding a new product tweaking our message, and in the trenches with customers, and, and, and, and, and… It means a lot to hear this recognition of how most growth businesses really roll!

    • http://www.sethlevine.com sethlevine

      this is exactly how it works 90% of the time. it’s never easy!

  • http://twitter.com/MrOgba Uche Ogba

    Amazing post Seth. You hit the nail one head with this.

  • http://simplifilm.com/ Chris Johnson

    Thanks for this post.
    I’m entering year 3 at my company and the first 2 years were learning how to act. Seriously, learning manners, learning how to act.
    Now, I’m ready to rock.

  • http://one.valeski.org Jud Valeski

    nailed it.

  • http://twitter.com/jacks_whitli Jack Holt, Whit.li

    Damn. Thanks for the nod/post/validation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=207139 Brent Daily

    Great post Seth. Thanks.

  • Chris Jeffery

    Inspired. Thank you.

    • http://www.sethlevine.com sethlevine

      There’s no Disqus “like” button. So “like”!

  • Kristen Levine

    Wow, that’s exactly where I’ve been in my 10 years! Makes me smile to see that I’m not alone and I wasn’t just f-ing up the whole time. It’s all part of the process:)

    • http://www.sethlevine.com sethlevine

      All part of the process indeed!

  • CrankyFranky

    saw a program yesterday on young entrepreneurs in Indonesia – the spokesgirl said about 1% of their population were productive entrepreneurs and the desired target was 2-3%

    I’m in the other 97% – not a driven type-A and prefer to relax rather than chasing the next dollar so I’m not an entrepreneur – but I certainly admire it in principle !

  • Todd Graus

    So I’m not crazy after all! Thanks…

    • http://www.sethlevine.com sethlevine

      Ha! Not at all!