A new business can't dodge every bullet and not every point of failure is foreseeable. But that doesn't mean that you have to put your head in the lion's mouth or make things harder for yourself than it needs to be. If you're willing to make the effort, you can learn from the mistakes of others as well as the bad choices of those who have gone down in flames before you. At the very least, you can hope to avoid making the same mistakes. You're gonna make your share of mistakes for sure, but just try to make them your own. I like to say that ignorance is curable, but stupidity is forever. If you never listen, you'll never learn. And if you're so pigheaded and arrogant that you think you can pull these things off all by yourself, you're in for a very rude awakening and an even tougher ride.
Over the last year, I've seen an interesting behavioral pattern develop, one that I share with you as a clear and cautionary tale: People who otherwise seem fairly rational are leaving incubators like 1871 way too soon for their own good. What we're seeing is very clear. If you leave the nest too soon and leave your support systems behind (including those whose impact and value you don't even fully appreciate), your business is much more likely to fail and fail quickly. Going it alone, whether it's because some desperate landlord offers you a great short- term deal on space or because some investor has a brother-in-law in the business, is simply stupid if you, your team and your business aren't really ready to function as a fully-independent entity. And believe me, you're not ready.
Yes, I have a dog in this hunt but don't just take my word for it. Do consider the trade-offs, risks, and other considerations before making a move so that you can at least say that you looked hard at the issues before you leaped.
The very last thing the founder of a startup needs to do is take his or her eye off the ball and lose focus when the company is just getting to the cusp of some modest success. Fooling around with fabrics, worrying about who sits by the window, and trying to be your own architect instead of beating down customers' doors are all bad uses of your time and distractions from the main business-- which is taking care of your business.
Absence might make the heart grow fonder in some romance novel, but in the real world of building a business, it's hard enough to find time for a social life to begin with and frankly "out of sight" is very often "out of mind" notwithstanding the most sincere promises and the best of intentions. You don't know how important even those casual friends are to your mental well-being or just how lonely it is to be out there on your own as you're going through these things and you're no longer surrounded by people who "get it." People who are living the same dreams and nightmares every day.
You'll never get a straighter story than directly from your customers, but right behind them in the line of straight shooters are your fellow entrepreneurs, the volunteer mentors and-- most of all-- the seasoned and experienced managers of the best mega-incubators like 1871, who are there mainly to help you make your business better. 1871's a non-profit with no agenda other than job creation. And the only way we make jobs happen is by helping our members build businesses that stick around and become self-sustaining. Even your best employees aren't going to regularly tell you that you're just blowing smoke (even if you are), but you can count on your peers and the people who've been there before to tell it to your face. A true friend always stabs you in the front.
4 Food, Facilities and Other Freebies
If you're typical, you take a lot of the food and other freebies at your incubator for granted, but these goodies feed your team, which isn't inclined to stop eating any time soon. And by the way, this stuff isn't really "free" in the first place. It's there because the providers want their offerings to be exposed to the thousands of people who pass through a place like 1871 every week. Once you're out on your own (and I want to be gentle in telling you this), none of these purveyors will give a damn about you or your crew's preferences and you can expect to be paying your own way. Tasty tacos and perpetual pizzas aren't cheap and your people aren't interested in paying themselves when they read every day about other businesses going whole hog on freebies. Same deal with providing your own receptionist, security, conference rooms, cafes, projectors, white boards, teleconferencing hookups, and high speed WiFi. It's all on your dime now and those dimes add up pretty quickly to a pile of cash that you'd be foolish to spend on stuff like this-- even if you had it to spare.
Speaking of cash to spare, I can't begin to tell you how really excited your investors are gonna be about tying up a big chunk of change in security deposits and fancy furniture that could be used in a million better ways to keep building the business. Prospective new investors will be even more put off to look at a balance sheet with a bunch of restricted funds and capital assets. The winners in the game today are "capital-lite" outfits that figure out how to rent or share resources rather than using scarce funds to furnish fancy facilities. That's why the dozens of VCs, serial entrepreneurs and angel investors walking around 1871 every day--the people with the greenbacks-- won't be dropping by your new digs anytime soon.
As gross as it may sound, the team that sweats together stays together and, in most startups, things rarely get better once the guys leave the garage. Sitting on top of each other all day long may be smelly, but it makes for instant communication and builds lifetime bonds. Struggling to find a space to put your stuff reminds everyone that space is expensive and money is scarce and you need to grow your way out of the box. Sweating or freezing when the building air turns off each night just becomes part of the company culture that gets passed down over the years-- just like your folks always claimed they chopped wood all night to keep your family warm. Move into new comfy digs with windows and doors and all the trimmings and you can watch your culture start to dissolve right before your eyes-- especially when the security guards at your new corporate tower give your best employees the "stink eye" and ask them the floor they're delivering the package to.
I've seen it all happen too many times to count and I don't expect it to end any time soon, but I'm hoping that you won't be the next one to make this kind of mistake. And if you do, I'll just say two things: (1) I told you so; and (2) how can I miss you if you won't leave?