Fun fact: I've met more technology entrepreneurs and well-known tech executives at the race track than I've met through work.
I don't mean betting on the ponies--I mean auto racing. And not watching, but sitting alongside each other in driver's meetings, rubbing fenders on the race track, and laughing together around (or on) the podium after an event.
That's what I do for fun. So do many, many others I know in U.S. tech centers from Silicon Valley to Boston, and in far-flung locales like London, Copenhagen, Moscow, and Beijing.
Our love for the sport and for the challenges of being an entrepreneur always makes me think of America Formula 1 champion, Phil Hill, who (the stories say) attributed his success in a deadly era in the sport to his philosophy of "taking risks, not chances".
Entrepreneurs are pretty much the same way. We're driven by a thirst for adrenaline, but more importantly, we're attracted by the challenge of pursuing a dream that's difficult to achieve under dangerous conditions. The startup life is fast paced, intense, and filled with a million small decisions that add up to success or failure--a life lived by inches and seconds. It rewards passion, hard work, persistence, teamwork, and the best use of resources.
And, like racing, it's not for everyone. If you're considering starting a company or working for a startup, ask yourself these five questions. If they get you excited instead of scared, then the startup world may be right for you.
1. Are you willing to work your butt off?
Watching the hit TV show, Silicon Valley, one might not think hard work is necessary. The characters constantly chat, quip and generally waste time. That makes for great entertainment, but not great business.
Be prepared to work all day (day after day), and then be on your phone after hours, prepping for the next day and constantly reading to keep informed in this ever-changing market. Be prepared to do whatever the job requires, regardless of your level.
Even as a CMO, I'm not immune. I've spent hours doing mundane things like making coffee, hanging whiteboards, or cleaning up. I've had to get out of my comfort zone and tell bosses that they were wrong because it came down to "if not me, who?" In a startup, there often is no one else. Working at a startup means doing whatever needs to be done.
Your loved ones need to understand that and be bought-in too, or you'll constantly be stressed by trying to satisfy inflexible, opposing forces.
2. How passionate are you, really?
I'm not talking about passion to make a bucket of money. I'm talking about passion for what the startup is doing.
This might be something as transformative as finding a new way to link the world or to speed up drug development, but it also might be something like improving expense-reporting software. Whatever it is, you need to feel passionate about it.
If not, you won't innovate and you won't have the grit to push through the inevitable issues that will come. Passion is your sustenance.
I've worked in numerous startups. Some soared. Some died. But every one of them was right for me because I followed my heart.
3. Is the team killer?
In a startup, you'll spend more time with your co-founders and peers than you will with the people you choose to love, so you better like them. When you're interviewing, spend time with them socially--not just professionally.
Take them for a walk or a cup of coffee. Find out what other people say about them. Spend time with them as a group.
Do they collaborate well together? Listen? Value contributions? The best products don't always win, but the best teams always find a way to succeed.
4. Are the resources there?
This means resources for both the startup and your specific role within it. The startup needs enough funding to hit the next milestone. Just as importantly, your role needs sufficient funding to hit the goals assigned to you and it needs to be valued.
For example, if you're looking at a marketing role and a CEO thinks his or her fabulous product will pretty much sell itself--and marketing is a "nice to have"--walk away. The climate you work in will dictate your success as much as your skills and capabilities will.
5. Is there room to win?
If you think your startup is going to be the next Facebook, think again. A startup needs to exist in the white space: where there's a need and no one else doing exactly what the startup does, or where incumbents are failing to serve their customers effectively.
There has to be a large addressable market to sustain a new entry, and enough room for you to gain early traction. Even then, the odds are against you. More than 70 percent of startups stall in the VC process and fail to exit or raise more funding.
Whether on the track or at work, I don't like chance. Chance is something that happens unpredictably. But taking calculated risks is what keeps life exciting. For the right people, startups are a great place to do that.
And, for what it's worth: So are race tracks.