If You Want to Work in a Startup, Get Used to Everything Breaking All of the Time

Startups attract people for different reasons. Freedom, control, decentralized authority, loving your job, making a difference, the allure of potential wealth, the sheer energy of the whole thing—take your pick. This world is a wild and wonderful roller coaster that ruins some and makes kings of others. If you have the constitution for it, entrepreneurship can be addicting.

Startups can also be the most frustrating thing in the world, either because they won’t take off or because when they do, scale is incredibly good at breaking things.

Not only is scale good at wreaking havoc, but if your company is growing really fast, you’ll face a vicious cycle of building infrastructure to keep up with growth, instead of building to accommodate for it. Since we’ve started to grow The Iron Yard, we’ve had to retool almost every part of our company, from payment to admissions to record keeping to curriculum management to our phone system to our interview process. That’s not because we’re bad at what we do, it’s because there’s more work to be done than hands to do it (and we’re extremely careful about hiring). Inevitably, that means we are constantly dealing with systems and people that bear more load than they were designed to. That’s exhausting.

Specifically, the last few weeks have been exhausting for me personally. (It’s a good exhaustion, not a burn-out exhaustion.) Along with building out a national marketing and expansion plan, I’ve traveled to 4 cities to lay groundwork for new campuses, all while serving as acting campus director in 3 cities (yes, I’m writing a series on how I get stuff done). This isn’t a pity party or effort to pat myself on the back—there have been dropped balls and I’ve let both our employees and customers down more than once. It happens, and, I believe, is simply unavoidable sometimes.

Right now I’m working with my team to both hire and build processes that will lighten everyone’s load and allow us all to focus our time and energy on our individual strengths. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but I know that continued growth will lead to new problems and failures. Our company is young and the opportunity is big, so we have to prioritize our failure avoidance appropriately—even though things will get better, there’s sure to be some type of frustration around the corner, and that’s OK. That’s normal. As long as we’re doing our best, that’s healthy.

So, to the tired and frustrated entrepreneur, if everything is breaking around you all the time, fear not. Keep doing great work and know that things should be breaking—if not, you aren’t moving fast enough.

(Thank you to Roy Schmidt for editing and improving this post.) 

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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

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