The Biggest Challenge of Being a Startup Founder

by Evgeny Tchebotarev

Everyone knows that startups are sexy. You make the rules, you get the money, glory and fame, press coverage, you name it. And while you have to work hard for this to happen—even harder than you ever thought you would—all is good in the end.

Until it’s not.

The challenge lies not in creating a new company, or a new product. It’s actually pretty easy. The challenge is not in raising money; that's a fairly straightforward process, even if it is, at times, mundane or hard.

What’s the biggest challenge of a startup founder? It’s to keep his (or rarely her) people happy.

Happiness is a very fragile state. You cannot measure it. You cannot simply build a web dashboard with the metrics of happiness. You cannot increase it with bonuses or salaries (arguably, you can, but for a short term, and even still, I’d find increase in happiness rather questionable).

There’s simply no way to methodically measure happiness level.

Happiness of your employees is built upon simple things—communication, openness, and personal touch. Being able to connect with your employees. To know and care about their needs, hobbies, desires, wishes.

If you are entrepreneur, just close your eyes for a second and ask yourself: do you know what’s your every employee favorite colour is, or what bike or car they drive (or do they walk?), or what their hobbies are? If you struggle with your answers, you may be in trouble.

Of course, not knowing the colour your employees like wouldn’t necessitate lack of their happiness per se, but it might mean that what you are wishing for them might not necessarily be what they would wish for themselves.

Almost every startup has salary as a number one expense line. It trumps technology (it’s so cheap now to run hundreds of servers), it trumps office space, travel, or any other startup expense. Because people are the key. They are key to the startup success—or it’s failure—and they are the most valuable and fragile resource that you have.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to invest not in latest hardware or a fancy office, but in human interaction, human understanding and human apprehension.

Don’t be fooled: it’s a full-time job that requires you to be sincere, to communicate, and to care deeply about your people. If one can master that, he (or rarely she) will always meet and retain talented and passionate people to build a great company.

Photo: Stephen R

500px Inc.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

500px is a photo community powered by creative people worldwide that lets you discover, share, buy and sell inspiring photographs. The first version of 500px came to light in the early days of digital photography. At that time, everything was slightly different — the Internet was slower, 3.2 megapixel cameras were the latest buzz, digital photographers were just getting acquainted with their... more

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Evgeny Tchebotarev

Evgeny Tchebotarev

In 2004, before Facebook and photo-sharing sites, Evgeny Tchebotarev created a community for photographers to meet, exchange information and share photos. He initially developed this as a LiveJournal blog and then teamed up with Oleg Gutsol and transformed the idea into 500px. As co-founder and COO, Evgeny is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company including its proprietary... more

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