The idealized entrepreneurship narrative often pushed out goes something like this: "brilliant young Ivy league guy has an idea. Founder conveys brilliant idea well to visionary venture capitalist, who backs his dream, and, five years later, voila, billion-dollar company.
The reality is much different, and Brad Feld and others have written extensively on the toll entrepreneurship can take on a person. The stress, the debt, the questioning, the hardest moments of success...and sometimes, the hard cost of failure.
Within that reality, is what I've come to think of as the loopy roller coaster of success: some of my best rising startups have only made it - or begun to make it in some cases - after long rides without much light at the end of the tunnel at times.
Take one, to be left unnamed, company in my portfolio that I was heavily involved with for several years. The company was officially founded in 2012, but the original concept genesis was as far back as 2010. The founders raised money in 2012 and 2013, won a bunch of serious awards, got some big contracts, and were on a fast track - then hit a huge speed bump. And it wasn't that five-minute speed bump scene from The Social Network, it was an 18-month speedbump where the company ran out of money, the founder switched continents, and investors flirted with counting a tax write-off.
Then, in 2016, five years or so into its life, the company leaders cracked a missing part of the marketing code and sales shot up again; leading to significant growth in all three major facets of the business. New money was raised and the company is now firmly profitable and poised for 200% year-on-year growth in 2017.
In another story of rags, to potential mega riches, to rags, to solid riches, another portfolio company was founded in 2012, rapidly raised a major A round in 2013, then saw very flat growth for all of 2014 and 2015. When the market was booming, they were treadmilling in place. Investors threw a life-line and the company stabilized itself and took a mid-eight-figure exit in early 2017. It wasn't the $500mm exit founders were pitching investors in 2013, but it made everyone happy and it still made them rich successes.
These types of stories abound, and I think they will continue to do so for as long as I'm investing in startups.
The moral, to me, is that there may be a few stories that are a straight line to success, with only a few hairy lawsuits along the golden yellow brick road, and there are certainly lots of startup stories without a happy ending. But many, so many, are right in the middle: like life they are a struggle, but light is there at the end of the long tunnel.