The Thing No One Tells You About Running A Startup

AWS's recent outage made me think about the many unexpected things that hit you when you run a startup. By Andrea Johnson (Co-Founder & CEO, ThisLife)

The thing no one tells you about running a startup is that it is tantamount to boarding a roller coaster. Everyone knows you need a great idea, a great team, and the right capital. But no one talks about the safety harness you’ll need to keep you tethered to the ground as you sink and soar.

Two weeks ago, I woke up to terrific press (thank you to the go-to blog about all things Apple, TUAW!); our product received a fabulous write up just as MobileMe’s sun was setting. That was great news and the timing couldn’t have been better since we’re a fantastic private cloud for photos and videos and a natural alternative for MobileMe users looking for a new home. What a perfect way to start the day! It felt as though the sky was the limit.

And yet, within hours, Amazon Web Services (AWS) crashed and took us with them. AWS provides much of the backend infrastructure, including servers and data storage, on which sites including ThisLife, Instagram, Pinterest and Netflix are built. To loosely quote Chicken Little, it felt is if the technical sky was falling. Major kudos to our development team who worked through the night (these things only happen at night and generally on weekends to boot).

Of course, there was a silver lining: we learned a ton from the outage. Planning for a technical disaster is one thing; surviving a technical disaster is another. Because of this experience we have made significant improvements to our backend architecture.

My point is, these kinds of things happen all the time. The roller coaster is real and it’s best to be ready for it. Some people will love your product and others will hate it. Some people will be thrilled to join your team and others won’t give you the time of day.

As the entrepreneur, you care so much about the product and its success that it is tough to avoid feeling personally wounded on a regular basis. But no matter what is happening around you, no matter the stress or the uncertainty or the rejection, you need to always show a brave and steady face for the team. It is exciting but it is not easy.

Once you have the brilliant idea, the perfect team and the right capital, take a moment to prepare yourself for the personal ride you are about to take. Then take a deep breath, buy your ticket and hold on tight!

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Andrea Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO of ThisLife, a complete cloud solution for easily protecting, organizing, enjoying and sharing your photos and videos. ThisLife raised $2.75M funding led by Madrona Venture Group in June 2012. Andrea has been featured in publications including Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek. She blogs at ThisLife. Andrea holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard University. Follow her on Twitter at @Andrea_ThisLife.