Life after Startup – Confidence as rocket fuel

This week and last week I have enjoyed something I haven’t done in a while: taking a holiday with a clear objective. Together with some friends we cycled 900km from Rotterdam to Copenhagen in 9 days. Funnily enough the last day, my phone fell down and broke at our final destination (the little mermaid in Kopenhagen), delaying my weekly ritual post on Wednesday 🙂

Not only was this a nice way to relax but also it helped to amplify the feeling that I am able to do something that appears hard at first sight with much less effort than expected.

Achieving goals is something that gives me a high every time. But if this kind of feeling is so exciting to me, why did it take so long to get it again?

Routine VS ambition

When my company became more stable, it also became harder for me to imagine setting big new challenges. I had to respect the rhythm of the company more and let my personal drive to try new things all the time rest. The reason is that this would lead to disruptive weeks and stressed employees all while the company was doing fine.

While these were understandable reasons to take it easier, I would find myself increasingly stuck in repeating the same things and running a business. It meant focusing more on improving things in an incremental way at a pace that everyone could follow, rather than overcoming crisis after crisis which is often associated with the early startup stage.

To me this is also what made me realize that different stages of a company need different kinds of leadership, and continuous incremental improvements were not my cup of tea, which is why I had hired a team of more experienced managers.

After handing everything over, I finally had more time to refocus my ambition and look outward more. I was reminded of the many times we took completely random trips with our early stage team. Trips to San Francisco to explore the startup landscape, to Barcelona and Berlin to dream and imagine what our company would feel like if we had an office abroad.

Those moments helped amplify a big dream and make it tangible. Where would we set up our office? What would the culture be? What exciting new products would we develop? But big dreams can also create lots of insecurity.

I would get stuck on little details like: what if I am simply not able to do enough sales? what if we need to fire everyone? what if I am simply not good enough?

Many things appear much harder than they are

When I was still studying, the idea of starting a business appeared very hard. I would worry about the administration, legal difficulties and getting enough sales. However when me and my business partner had set ourselves the goal of getting started in February 2009, we realized that we had covered most of these things within a few days. And a few weeks later we had already sold our first project.

The reality with most new things is that actually the hardest part takes place in a short period of time, sometimes days, weeks, sometimes maybe a few hours. But once the mystery is over everything becomes easier.

Nowadays I try immediately skipping a few levels and just try bigger leaps. When I bought my first roadbike I just booked a flight to Geneva with a bike luggage. I didn’t really train much and within 2 weeks I left barely having ever gone up a hill, and biked 1000 km back to Rotterdam.

Obviously I had underestimated that biking back from Switzerland also involved mountains, however all it took was effort and sweat, and after that one trip anything else seemed easier.

An upward spiral of confidence

Confidence is the fuel that has carried me through many long periods of difficulty, insecurity and instability that are bound to happen in a startup. While many things will eat at your confidence, I have always found it important to keep building my confidence through many different challenges. Most of these I set to myself and can often be completely random.

However they are an important reminder that even if the challenges that I am faced with from external sources might not always solve themselves, I know that I am capable of solving others.

And once you gain confidence from achievement, it will give you more confidence for the next one, and it can only go up from there 🙂

Rocket fuel, ignite!


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