Real Life Startup versus “Competition” Startup

The last 10-15 years created an interesting culture in the tech world (and not only). It’s the startup culture.

You know the type: young, hipster, clever people gathering together, in a dorm or in a garage, hacking things together, day in and day out, then, suddenly, getting huge investments, or a lot of exposure or incredibly big market share in their niche.

The modern hero is not a chevalier saving a damsel in distress, but a geek with a vision. From Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, up to more recent startup icons like Jack Ma, these new leaders are becoming the standard, the goal, the ultimate persona that young people should embrace.

But this trend came at a price. And the price is authenticity.

In the startup ecosystem there are now hundreds of competitions. Startup Weekends, Pioneers festivals and dozens of prominent brands are fighting with local initiatives in which entrepreneurs are invited to pitch for a reward. Sometimes, the reward is just the mere fact of being seen, but sometimes the reward is significantly more consistent, like acceding into the mentoring program of an accelerator like Y Combinator and getting seed money (from a few dozens of thousands, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars).

These competitions created a new breed of entrepreneurs. I called them “Sunday entrepreneurs”. Mostly because they are entrepreneurs only during the Sunday in which the competition takes place.

They do have real competencies (like in verifiable competencies) but those competencies are useless. The startup they expose is merely just an idea, which will come to life only after the initial seed investment. Also, most of the time, their idea is so revolutionary, that they can’t even tell you what it is about, unless you sign an NDA.

The “competition” startup has a very specific orientation. The real startup is always centered towards the client: his pain points, his needs and the processes by which these are solved. On the other side, the “competition” startup tells a different story: one that will have to convince a VC to put some money on the table. This story is filled with specific lingo: cohort users, disruption, conversion, growth, IPO and so on. It’s like they crafted a new language, one that is understood only by a small group of people.

Most of the time, after they get the initial investment, the “competition” startup gets stalled. Nothing really happens, until all the funds are burned. And then, with a plausible (but not always real) excuse about why things didn’t work out, the founders are trying to find another playground.

The real startup is, more often than not, difficult, dull, repetitive and extremely consuming. It’s not spectacular at all. The only thing that may be spectacular at a real startup is their cashflow, if they’re doing their job right But that nice number comes up only after days and months and, sometimes, years of continuous, arduous and boring hard work.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, you see articles about that “overnight” success of some “obscure” startup popping up across the whole stream of social media and it all looks so simple.

Nope, it’s not. The real startup is very, very difficult. And, in most cases, I think it won’t even win a place on the stage at those startup competitions. It’s not that catchy.

But it works.

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