I was recently messing about on Quora, the Q&A site, looking at the interesting things people ask and the curious answers that follow. I noticed in the side-bar a question that made me snort my coffee all over my keyboard. (classy right?) Not because I thought the question was wrong or silly, more because I read it wrong – “What are some tips for being a good startup girlfriend?”
Rather than the sense in which the question is asked – how can you be supportive if your partner is crazy busy and putting everything on the line for their business, the question to me sounded like running your identity as a girlfriend – as a startup.
So I thought I’d explore that one a little bit. I’m pretty good at being a bachelorette, I like my long hours of work on assorted projects. I can see why this question was asked. (Any journalist who has had a partner who texted often that your dinner is in the dog will understand.)
I also think the question is suitable for all genders – trying to be part of the life of someone who has an obsession is not easy, I know I have been dreadfully unavailable sometimes while in the same room and often hundreds of miles away.
But back to the original reading – Startup Girlfriend or Girlfriend Startup.
A cursory search online will show you that startups go through some fairly stable and easily identifiable stages of growth. I’ve made a shortlist – there’s plenty of other stages, depending on which guide you prefer to read.
Concept, validation, iterate, funding, scaling, conservation, exit.
Already this is starting to sound a little inappropriate – but I’ll keep trucking. Let’s see what happens.
Concept. I suspect this would come under the banner of dating and in this case with so many startups and many quickfire events and pitch rounds, it sounds a little like speed dating.
Get your pitch together. You make yourself the you, you want to be and pitch it – isn’t that what speed dating is?
Elevator pitching even. A short time to attract a partner. Tell them your story, highlight the good things and effectively communicate a fruitful future.
Validation. The honeymoon period. When you realise that maybe your concept has legs, or your relationship is more than a few casual dates while you look around for something else.
Exciting right? You betcha. A future, big plans, things to do and a team of sorts. Having a support system can be a lovely thing, a partner in crime to help you both do amazing things.
So, now others see that you exist as a unit. Hopefully you don’t get a portmanteau but it might happen, and then you can take all the vowels out and be a truly identifiable startup. (Strtp Grlfrndr?)
Iteration. The honeymoon is kind of over here. Things are still great – but the day to day stuff becomes more normal. You’ve seen your partner when they’re all sweaty and sick and you still like them, you’ve probably had a fight or two and survived.
These all help to shape the relationship. When something goes really awry, maybe you can even pivot – staying at your place? No, you’re staying at mine, I need the wardrobe space.
You’ve monitored the metrics required for each of you to learn and grow and remain relatively happy. You’re also considering whether or not the next phase is realistic. If the foundations are solid, do you need to consider a premises and funding?
Funding. Not quite a dowry yet (do people still get these?). To move to a place you both like – a new premises to pursue your goals away from a co-working space (or both sets of flatmates) will need some funding and decision making. It’s also a consolidation of your uh, business. (I knew this experiment would get patchy).
If your startup is based in London, getting your own office (living space) can be phenomenal! And phenomenally expensive! You’ll be poor, living off credit cards, eating ramen and not getting so many beers – unless there really is funding for cohabitation, which I seriously doubt.
But – you can also pool your resources, buy things together and you don’t need that extra bed. So there is also some streamlining and definition in the process.
A design focus at this stage will also be likely to emerge – your poster of A.N.Footballer can be nicely hung in the toilet, my beautiful woodcut print from the hipster market; that goes in the living room. You may want to fit in with similar businesses and decorate your new home in the style of Urban Outfitters, or cut a swathe and express yourself in whichever way you think describes your venture best (providing it still adheres to usability principles.)
Scale. Kinda the make or break part of the ‘strtp grlfrnd’ theme. You either stick with things and scale up for the long term or well, you don’t. This could mean asking for a raise, planning a family and trying to find something larger than a shoebox to live in.
It could mean, asking for a raise, planning a wedding and considering travel. It could be anything, but it usually needs funding and you’re past that seed round you had at University that is colloquially known as the Bank of Mum and Dad.
To expand on your life, live larger and do more with your time together, seems expensive. But if you can do it on a tight and stable budget that allows for growth and provides something for that rainy day (when the cooker explodes, one of you breaks a leg, the boiler needs replacing), then you might be able to work your way through to a business that is no longer a startup.
Conservation. Here’s the hard and boring bit. He’s seen you lose your mind over something minor, you’ve seen him fart. It wasn’t the end of the world and no one was killed. But there’s still room to make sure that your startup is not all about who takes the washing out of the machine, whether to visit either set of parents over the holidays and what to have for dinner every night.
The conservation bit can add depth and reliability to your startup. Making sure the day to day is satisfactory. Not with the stress, whistles and bells of a launch. Not with the pleading with a bank manager to remortgage your home, but that rhythm and identity that happens when things are ‘normal’. This bit helps to create the mythology of your startup, the culture and methods.
It’s not all about being a performing pony, but it’s maybe about occasionally realising that some days are really just okay, and that’s a good thing – your startup is on the level.
Exit. This can be translated in a few ways, but there’s a couple of obvious ones that come to mind. Exit the company – sell it on and leave. It was good while it was working, you both got a lot out of it but it’s time to move on and take with you the things that you’ve learned.
Exit – it didn’t work and you hate each other. There will be no talking without cat-like hissing and glares and you will make all of your friends very uncomfortable – except those ones who like a drama and want to take sides.
Exit – toward the light? The big one. You made it all the way through. You dedicated your time and energy, you identified the gap in the market and turned it into that rare and wonderful thing that lasts until the end of your life. You might leave a legacy for the next generation or you might just leave with a touching and final goodbye. Either way, you worked hard, stuck at it and despite the odds, you were a successful ‘strtp grlfrnd’ for life. Society applauds and you shuffle off this mortal coil. Sounds a bit mawkish, but not so bad in total.
Though I think there were some practical ideas in there. A happy union of any sort takes a lot of boringly practical decision making and commitment, I don’t think that I’d want to be an entirely ‘strtp grlfrnd’.
For starters – people and relationships are usually a lot more unpredictable. What if your business partner starts moonlighting with another startup?
But it’s been an amusing enough thought experiment for now and I am thankful to the woman who posted honesty on Quora and asked a hard question. For the record, I hope you also asked your partner – as well as the open forum. Maybe not the same question, but clear communication is usually a strong point, for a startup, or a girlfriend.
I hope you achieve what your business sets out to do.