There is a ton of content out there offering advice to startups on “The One Thing To Propel Your Startup Success.” The reality of the matter is the equation is much more complex, and real entrepreneurs know it.
Covering startups for the last two years means I’ve had access to many smart people and great ideas, and also some less than viable ideas. This has lead me to develop an equation which provides results as close to certain as one can get in the startup world. Obviously, the room for failure is plentiful and nothing is certain. Remember your order of operations as you work the numbers.
(Emotional Intelligence * Maturity) + Coding = Profitable Self Awareness
Each variable has an equation within itself. Let’s break them down.
This buzzword makes some people nauseous. In reality, the equation for EI = Empathy * Objectivity. Empathy comes into play when founders see a pain point or problem to be solved. It could be a major social issue. It could be a better way to deliver food, share rides, and use your spare bedroom to make money. Regardless of how you see it, it comes down to a founder’s ability to see an unresolved market issue and fix it. They must understand and act upon someone else’s (often their own) pain.
Objectivity is a factor because there are millions more great ideas than viable businesses. Everyone thinks they are the next startup unicorn until it comes down to bringing the idea to life. The truly objective founder knows the reality of what works, why it works, and what came before the workable solution that failed.
Objectivity is also vital for a founder because being too emotionally attached to the idea, product, or team leads to blind spots and an inability to pivot. Hard choices often have to be made. An objective founder sees reality for all its harsh truths and acts accordingly.
Emotional intelligence is worthless in a vacuum. It must be paired with maturity. This variable destroys the youth founder myth so prevalent in the startup world. Maturity is necessary to understand not only what to do to be successful but also what NOT to do.
Maturity, experience, and good judgement come from, well, experience and bad judgement as the quote goes. Notice I didn’t say age. Age and maturity are not necessarily connected. There are plenty of old people who never learned from their mistakes or were run over because they failed to evolve with the times just as there are plenty of young, talented coders who can’t communicate their alleged genius the unwashed masses.
Maturity also develops by learning from adversity and finding utility from it. This is often attributed to immigrants and minorities who come from difficult backgrounds. Skin color and national origin, however, are not absolutes in the model as evidenced by the diversity of successful startups.
The final component of maturity is grit. This is the ultimate personal choice to keep moving and keep learning in the face of repeated failures. Of all the pieces of this equation, it could be the most difficult to learn and yet the most vital.
The equation defining this variable goes like this: Maturity = Adversity + Grit
Emotional Intelligence and maturity make for good writers and marketers. The world has plenty of those. What separates the unicorns from the well-decorated ponies is the ability to code well. Coding is the most important skill of the future. There are so many languages and so many people developing new languages all the time that it’s nearly impossible to be an expert in more than one or two.
That means being able to see trends as they approach and react accordingly. If you want to write an AI platform and sell it, you should learn THESE languages. If web apps are your thing, then HERE is your list. If you prefer databases and their massive structures, you’ll want to know THIS list. There is some crossover, but there is also plenty or room for specialization.
There really is no excuse left NOT to learn to code. Given the access of the internet and relatively cheap (often free) cost of obtaining knowledge via YouTube or other non-profit platforms, not learning to code is purely a choice these days.
Specializing takes time, and startups have the most compressed time frame of any business out there. Deciding to spend time is the most important choice a founder can make, and it directly affects the equation. Combine that with age and learning style and this variable is the most volatile of any in the equation.
So it works something like this: Coding = (Age * Learning Style) / Time
The Ultimate Answer
I realize the math presented here is fuzzy at best. That’s the beauty of it all. Depending on with whom you speak, every startup expert has a different take on how to be successful. In the end they’re all wrong on some part, but they’re right enough to have made some money doing it.
That’s what it’s about. Sure. We start off thinking about just wanting to help people, giving back, and making a difference, but after three or four years of practically giving away services just to make a name you have to eat. Don’t you? Your spouse who supported you all those years deserves something for the time invested and faith shown in your vision.
That’s why I call it profitable self awareness. Maybe your idea didn’t really fly for various reasons, but you were smart enough to have filed the paperwork and own the rights. Your exit might be selling the idea to Google or Apple and being hired as an advisor or consultant. Not every startup becomes AirBnB or Snapchat.
Money comes in different ways and often from unlikely sources. What you believe is your true calling as a founder may just end up being supporting someone else’s startup with your knowledge and wisdom. Or you could run Yahoo into the ground and make a ton of money doing it. Anything is possible.