Wayne and I have been reflecting on our progress, accomplishments, and setbacks this past year. It was probably instigated by our friend Anil's post about his business, ThinkUp and a host of other "end of year" reflection posts. We've neglected to do it in the past because we've always been rushing headlong into the next thing, but we felt that it was particularly important to do it this year.
Sometimes it feels like we're paddling up river with a toothpick and we're still waving at the same dumb bear on the opposite shore. That was 2014. It's been hard to admit that and sometimes we beat ourselves up over it. Even with that feeling, I am confident about the decisions we've made and in fact glad that we chose our current path because, ultimately, it's the quality of what we've done rather than how much, how fast, and how far. We've kept control of our business and even if we aren't as far along as we'd like in terms of a space, we can still make those decisions ourselves.
When we started Lonestar, one of the things we both were set on was building something that was not only meaningful on a personal level, but also representative of our values in trying to make change in the world. And that means experimenting with how we do business - that it shouldn't be business as usual. There was a certain point where we were willing to compromise that vision to obtain funding. At the time, it seemed like a compromise we were willing to take to get better infrastructure in place. But at what point does that change your vision into something that you didn't want to begin with?
Sometimes we feel alone, but we try to remind ourselves that many entrepreneurs struggle with this when trying to obtain funding. We were listening to Alex Blumberg's Startup podcast the other day and I identified with all the feelings he was having about raising money. Thoughts like this go on in your head:
- Self- doubt - maybe the people with money know better? I should listen to feedback; I'm not the expert in everything.
- If they are funding me, I need to take what they have to say above my instincts about what's going to work.
- I need to suck it up and value their monetary contribution above my contribution, I should feel lucky that anyone wants to give me funding.
- I should trust what they're saying; they have our best interest at heart.
- I am not a business person! Yes, I know about how to run a business but wouldn't it be easier to let someone else worry about that so I can focus on the ideas and executing?
- It would be so much easier to do this if we had a pile of money.
But remember the golden rule:
MO MONEY MO PROBLEMS
Initially, taking funding would have felt like a relief. Wasn't it what we wanted in the first place? But! We had to take a hard look at ourselves and ask what the ramifications were. Would it *really* be easier? In the end it was going to create more problems - of a different nature - than solve them.
It took us a while to figure it out, but the answer to these questions had to be a yes:
- Do we have control over growth and timeline?
- Do we have the ability to continue to experiment?
- Can we share our ideas in a collaborative spirit with others in the industry and our customers?
- Can we grow our team in a way that we see is most effective?
- Will Wayne and I be able to continue to work as an equal partnership and that our contributions are seen as equal?
- Does our process/intellectual property belong and reside with the company, the team we've built and ultimately us?
These were principles that we could not compromise on, and in the end the answer to too many of those questions were no. In fact, I wouldn't have been allowed to talk about any of these issues in public, which goes against everything we founded the business for in the first place. Sharing and talking about failure and struggle is so important to this process, too often business owners talk only about how successful and amazing and positive everything is. It would have fundamentally altered Lonestar into something unrecognizable and too far away from how we had made it a success in the first place. We realized that our "intellectual property" was all we had, but selling it now for cheap (in the grand scheme of things) was going to bite us in the ass down the road.
Of course the feedback was extremely useful and we learned so much through the process about areas that we need to improve on. But sometimes you also have to trust your gut. That "gut" is years of experience and work telling you that this path will lead to a situation that will end in frustration.
So we are OK with growth in the non-"business as usual" way. In fact, we embrace it and it's energized us for the new year. Here's to 2015 and building something we can be proud of.