In his book The Lean Startup Eric Ries defines a startup as such: “A human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”
This inclusive phrasing of the startup concept struck a chord with me, particularly the words extreme uncertainty. Right now, being a woman in my twenties, I feel like the space I move and breathe is exactly one that is shared with extreme uncertainty, as well as overpriced rent. In fact, the extremity of the uncertainty is probably the thing which I feel most certain about.
A startup, according to Ries, begins with a vision, proceeds via passion, and operates under a trial and error system. Neither the size of the company nor the industry to which it belongs matters to the startup status. It can be drawn to an individual scale and the need for an appropriate societal label — “I am a (lawyer, doctor, actor, dogwalker, lochness monster specialist, etc)— can be dismissed.
To me, this definition connotes an uncontainable energy, motivation, and commitment of the people involved. At the same time, it calls to mind those familiar gut-churning pangs of “what ifs,” “what nexts”, “how the hells” and “so now whats”. And while it can be exhausting, it is this duality of excitement and fear that leads to the euphoric surge when a product is innovated, succeeds, and most importantly begins to be of benefit. What follows are the hand hurting high-fives, the drinks on mes, and the I’m on top of the [expletive] worlds. It is a path of highs and lows. Of late nights, early mornings, and too much coffee. And so far it seems that no one involved in a startup would trade their lifestyle or their experience for another, for anything else could be described as mundane in comparison.
To me my twenties thus far has felt like a startup. It’s been up and down in every sense, and there is nothing but uncertainty ahead. I am trying to figure out what it is I have to offer, what my “product” and its “value” are, and how I can best be of service to others. There are naturally trials and errors, and probably more of the latter than I have yet to realize. The act of analyzing my personal data — the consequences of my actions, the success of my efforts — and often times having to step back and start again are both necessary aspects of a startup and frustrating to no end. But as a result, there are “aha!” moments to brightly color the way. Often times they do come after long nights and close-to mental breakdowns that consist of commiserating with fellow twenty-something life-ntrepreneurs.
Like any startup I’m constantly striving for balance, trying to figure out what exactly my Minimum Viable Product (MVP) — the best I can give using the least amount of resources —is and whether this MVP can most benefit those around me.
A startup has to create a brand, an identity. It has to stand for something and have a mission, a goal, a reason for existing. What is this quarter-life benchmark for if not to ponder over such existential quandaries?
I am taking a lot of pleasure out of reading Ries’s book as both a lesson in entrepreneurship as well as an experiment in adapting a sociological lens to the content. If I get the honor to meet Ries one day I will certainly give him a too-hard high-five and buy him a drink. I feel I owe him at least that. For on one hand he’s helped me to feel excited about working with or for a startup or maybe even creating my own, but more importantly he’s given me a sense of solidarity that transcends the introversion of personal soul-searching. It’s nice to know my pals over at Apple went through the same discovery process that my friends and I are currently navigating over cheap wine and sarcasm, discussing the woes of unpaid internships and applauding one another’s brilliantly hyperbolized plans to save the world. I’m a startup. Trial and error. Gathering data from my feedback loop — personal reflection and peer input.
I’ve started up. So now it’s time to keep going.