I think everyone says that building a startup is hard, but what they generally fail to convey is how hard it actually is. I left my previous position on March 1st of this year, and since then it seems like it’s been an unpunctuated litany of 14-hour days. There’s also this notion (that I had) that when you found a company, you’ll mostly be working on projects that are interesting to you. I mean, it is your company, right? And you do generally get to choose what that entails, right? And that that engagement will be prophylactic against the darkness.
That’s pretty heckin’ far from the truth in every way. The problems we’re solving are incredibly fascinating: AWS cost optimization, cloud resource management, and EC2 management are all issues I’m excited to be working on. But in the daily grind of solving those problems, about 10% of the code in Sunshower is what I would consider to be “strongly interesting”–the rest is fairly standard enterprise Java, Go, and Typescript. In other words, Sunshower is 10% distributed graph reduction machine and 90% infrastructure built to interact and support that. It’s actually about twice as bad as that, since fully 55% of the code is tests and testing infrastructure. And this is to say nothing of setting up continuous delivery, writing deployment manifests, replacing failed hard drives, configuring VPNs, signing documents, worrying about corporate and legal stuff…the list goes on.
That proportion of fun-work to work-work largely tracks my experience at companies of all sizes, with the primary differences being that the pay is much worse at your own startup, and that nobody’s really skeptical of a software project that is already profitable. The cocktail of doubt, overwork, and scarcity is strong and bitter, and there’s only so much of it you can drink.
In October I got pretty sick and have only just really recovered, and that really pushed me to a place that the kids probably call “too extra.” You can tell when you get there because everything’s distorted and whack–speed-bumps become cliffs and the little nuggets of interesting work you sprinkle throughout your day lose their luster. But the worst part is that it’s actually pretty hard to tell when you’re there. I only realized I wasn’t in a great spot recently, and had troubles seeing a way out.
Lisa, my amazing wife and co-founder, really helped with the insight that gratitude is really what will get you out of dark spots. Gratitude for family, for the people who throw their lot in with yours, for the opportunity to even try, for health, and even a warm breakfast and a colorful sunrise (fingers crossed). And so I’m trying that and it’s really working.