I walked into the building, and felt a palpable energy emanating from the room. Along one wall, I noticed a few Web programmers working silently and wearing earbuds. A salesperson looked like she had an iPhone glued to the side of her head at all times. In the back, surrounded by X-Men action figures and way too many used coffee cups, a man with frizzy hair and a bright blue T-Shirt was tapping away at an iMac. He looked up at me.
"John, welcome to the jungle! Glad you found the place."
As usual, I was there researching an article, but I had ulterior motives.
I'm drawn to the energy and enthusiasm of startups. I'm an idea man myself. Frankly, you have to be an idea-generation machine if you want to survive in my line of work. So I felt an instant connection with the man in the blue shirt, the startup's founder.
This company is working on an app designed to help you make social connections at conferences. (To protect the privacy of the people I'm describing, I'm not naming the app.) We chatted about the progress his company was making so far and his challenges in getting noticed in a crowded market.
Then I asked him the question that was burning in my mind.
"How do you plan to be successful with this business?"
He flashed a quick smile and said three words I will always remember: "We already are." He explained that he knew the company was going to succeed and already viewed it as successful. Indeed, he had already built two previous companies and sold them. He had a good track record. His entire persona screamed success.
Still, I wondered how it would be possible for someone leading a tiny company and making an app in San Francisco, of all places, could possibly know his new venture would go anywhere. I even questioned some of his logic, recalling a few competing apps that seem to do roughly the same thing. Sensing he was a fan of the black elixir (the used coffee cups were a solid clue), I suggested talking more about success and failure while visiting a nearby coffee hut. We grabbed a few employees, including the one with the iPhone, and settled in for a deep dive.
"The one word that comes to mind is perseverance," he said, and everyone on his team nodded in agreement. I nodded in agreement. Having developed a solo writing career myself over the past 13 years, I know that perseverance is critical. It seems to make all of the difference. Persevering through the challenges of raising capital, facing down the competition, dealing with difficult employees, developing creative marketing strategies--they are all important. Yet, the one attribute that seems to form the foundation of any startup is the ability to persevere through any setback.
The founder had this attribute in spades. He seemed relentless. The company itself was actually situated in a "working apartment" where everyone in his employ worked in a lower-level living room, and he lived in a loft on the second level. Somehow, I think he rarely slept. There was a hardened determination about him, a view of business and life that said he would get through just about anything, no matter how difficult, and somehow emerge victorious. They pushed 150 percent on every front: making a viral video, seeking investors, tweaking their code. It was a nonstop effort.
I left that meeting cheering for his company, his employees, and his whole attitude.
I've written before about my own failed startup and how my co-founders started using the word "failure" too frequently. It became part of our vocabulary. I'm convinced that perseverance is the ultimate countermeasure to those feelings of failure when you're starting a company. It's not just an ancillary attribute or an important trait--it's absolutely required to build any company. You push and never stop.