Marc Andreessen has another great post up, on a particularly timely subject. Titled "Why NOT to do a Startup", the post gives a detailed outline of a lot of the cons of doing a startup. It's Part I on a series on the subject. Marc obviously has some very relevant perspectives on the subject, with three startups under his belt, and as an investor and adviser to dozens of others.
The post particularly hit home for me, since I've had the opportunity to work with dozens of internet and technology startups as an internet research analyst since 1994, and as an investor in startups today.
Marc goes through eight items to watch out before jumping in with both feet. Number two in particular, was expressed very well:
"..in a startup, absolutely nothing happens unless you make it happen.
This one throws both founders and employees new to startups.
In an established company -- no matter how poorly run or demoralized -- things happen. They just happen. People come in to work. Code gets written. User interfaces get designed. Servers get provisioned. Markets get analyzed. Pricing gets studied and determined. Sales calls get made. The wastebaskets get emptied. And so on.
A startup has none of the established systems, rhythms, infrastructure that any established company has.
You as the founder have to put all of these systems and routines and habits in place and get everyone actually rowing -- forget even about rowing in the right direction: just rowing at all is hard enough at the start.
And until you do, absolutely nothing happens.
Unless, of course, you do it yourself.
Have fun emptying those wastebaskets."
As wonderful a startup may seem from a hundred thousand feet from the outside, it can really be NO FUN dealing with the most basic issues, way deep in the weeds.
Marc goes through a pretty comprehensive list of things to watch out for before getting excited about doing a startup.
One thing I'd add would be that more likely than not, the startup will need to meaningfully change it's product and/or service direction at least once or more in the first three years.
Almost every startup you can think of started off as one thing and eventually became something very different way before making the transition from private to a public company.
Microsoft in it's earliest days was a programming tools company, not an operating system and application company.
Yahoo! started out as a directory of websites, not a media portal/web-based online service.
Google, of course started out as a search company, but didn't become the Google money machine we know, until it built it's keyword advertising system.
These are only the most well-known examples.
What's not often understood by outsiders, is how wrenching the product/service evolution process is for all involved in a startup. This of course includes the founders, management, employees, customers, and investors.
Unfortunately, this is more the norm than the exception for most startups.
And most of the time, it's not anticipated in the founders' plans before they buy the first waste basket.