You’re Not a Early-Stage Startup Founder If You’re Getting Paid

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Startup founders - stay hungry, stay foolish. By Samihah Azim (Founder & CEO, GleeBox)

I recently went to an event on Fundraising where Ajit Medhekar, part of Band of Angels, sat on the panel to discuss early stage fundraising and the various seed investment structures. He mentioned that if you’re getting paid, you’re most certainly not a Founder, specifically if this is an early stage company where all you really have is seed investment.

Barely 40 minutes later, I met a founder who’s considering shutting down their company because it wasn’t performing well. They sounded defeated and heartbroken, but this is a tale that’s all too common in Silicon Valley.

As they were telling me their story, they kept bringing up how they had to make so many sacrifices (welcome to entrepreneurship – expect to stay hungry and foolish), how they couldn’t spend like they used to (evidently for this Founder, it was designer labels – congratulations, you’re learning what it means to make short-term “sacrifices” and live like no one wants to, so you can one day, live the way most people can only dream of), and how once they raised money they had to give themselves a salary which was reduced considerably from what their market rate would be. Pause for a second.. they were giving themselves a salary?!

If you’re a founder of an early stage company and all you have is a small seed investment you really shouldn’t be giving yourself a salary. The only people that should be receiving a salary are your early employees, specifically your engineers, designers, and possibly even a community/sales person depending on your needs.

When this founder told me they were taking a salary, I about lost all sympathy I had for their trials and tribulations. First of all, it’s a massive turn-off to investors, and second, if you’re giving yourself a salary, you probably don’t have your skin in the game or are not dedicated enough in your product or in building your company (and if you’re not dedicated towards your own vision, why should anyone else be?

Starting a company is not glamorous at all. If you can’t pull yourself away from owning labels, driving a fancy car, or you’re not capable of making incredibly hard sacrifices and being really really really stressed out, you really shouldn’t start a company. Sell that fancy car and pay for that designer you think will work for free – seriously, we know we’re as highly sought after as engineers and there are startups willing to pay us a very nice salary…explain why we should work for free sans equity? (This is a story for another time, and not mine to tell).

There are so many things I’ve had to give up when I decided to take the plunge: buying a new car (you don’t need a depreciating asset anyways..), buying new shoes, buying 1st world necessities, buying anything really, traveling, fine dining, a salary, a social life, my sanity (just kidding..kind of..) etc.

Expect there to be fairly significant changes in your social life – it’s not that you won’t be able to relate to your non-tech/startup friends, just that you’ll realize fairly quickly how different your priorities become (not for everyone, but for a lot of them). It’s also not really necessary to be best friends with the whole world. It’s great to have many friends, but they don’t all need to be your best friend.

That being said, you still want a few close friends – as a founder, any given day can be your absolute best, or your absolute worst. And on those days that it’s your absolute worst, you really want those closest to you there. The friends that remain there when you “make it” (whatever that means) or don’t, are the ones worth having in your life forever.

Forget about relationships, unless you’re already in one, and they’re absolutely supportive and wonderful! Hold onto those. However, if you’re seeing someone who’s clingy (seriously, what’s up with this new trend of incredibly clingy guys?), is high maintenance in that they need a lot of attention (another ridiculous trend – what’s up with that?), or you’re having to sacrifice important things you need/should be doing to build your company or product in order to spend time with your significant other, consider moving on. Overall your significant other should be adding to the quality of your life when you’re having to sacrifice so much already, not creating more stress or strain than necessary. But I digress..

The point is, if you’re not able to make massive sacrifices, and if you’re expecting to take home a salary (i.e., anything that goes beyond paying your basic expenses of rent, food, non-spa gym membership, etc – in which case, that’s not a salary, that’s barely surviving), then you should seriously reconsider building a company. You shouldn’t be a founder for the sake of being a founder, nor should you start a company for the sake of starting a company.

This post was originally posted at Samihah Azim's blog.

Women 2.0 readers: Are you an early-stage startup founder? Are you paying yourself or not? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Samihah Azim is the Founder and CEO of GleeBox, a startup that lets people curate and organize offline discoveries and explore unique local items to share within their network. She has a passion for solving complex problems surrounding social commerce. Previously, she was a Design Product Manager at 6waves Lolapps and BizeeBee, leveraging both her keen eye for design and product management skills. Follow her on Twitter at @samihah.