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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Starting Somewhere Else

Everyone seems to be "working on a startup".<...>

Some of these people actually are working on a startup, whereas others are just following a trend and proclaiming this fact.

And those individuals that are doing neither of these, are probably secretly dreaming and wishing that they'd be startup entrepreneurs too.

What does it actually mean to be "working on a startup"?

As a tech community, we have popularized this phrase (amongst so many others) that it has become the mainstream mantra that it is today.

Well, I've become disillusioned with the phrase and what we have turned startups into.


I might be a little bit late to this bandwagon (as other, clever minds in my network have already realized this), but "working on a startup" doesn't really say or mean anything (of value, at least).

It is easy to say I'm founder of this or that startup, without fully grasping what that actually means.

Beyond this sheep-like mentality (which I may or may not be a little bit too opinionated about), I think it has skewed our perception of what a good (real?) starting point actually looks like.

Don't get me wrong, startups are sexy and whilst being a startup entrepreneur is hard, I love considering myself one.

If I were unattached, I'd bet that it'd make me a little more attractive with the ladies.

That's the extent to which I like the idea of working on a startup of my own.

But if your genesis is a desire to work on a startup (with all the mainstream hoopla that surrounds the concept), you are possibly missing a couple of fantastic and alternative starting points.

So instead of "working on a startup", consider starting with one of these premises:

  • Build a product. And if you're really ambitious, build a product that people love. Forget about it being a startup (or even a business), just start by building a product. If that snowballs, then you might just have your startup.
  • Offer to help someone else. Or as most people will know this: offer a service. What skills do you have that others may find valuable? Use them, find clients, help them and mail the invoice.
  • Solve a problem you are truly passionate about. Maybe you want to solve world poverty or global warming. Or maybe it's something a little closer to home; something that is broken in your own town. Either way, it's about solving not problem and not about the vehicle ("startup") that enables it.
  • Make money. There's nothing wrong with a bit of financial ambition and the pursuit of riches. But does it matter how you do this? As long as it's ethical and legal, I don't care. Do you really need to mask this ambitious pursuit under the guise of "working on a startup"? Just come out and say it already.
  • Do something for yourself. Want to challenge yourself to learn a new skill and apply that? Do you want to build something that you desperately want yourself, but isn't out there already? Well, don't call it a startup and just do it as a personal project you care about.

A startup is nothing more than a vehicle.

And "working on a startup" should be nothing more than a mindset that you apply to any stage of a business.

It's about being confused, pursuing scaleable and repeatable processes, and disrupting whatever status quo.

It is however never a starting point itself.

On the day you're born, you don't automatically know what you'd like to do in the rest of your life. Neither do you make any decision in this regard then.

Instead I bet that one of the things listed above, ultimately shapes what you end up doing.

And sometimes that leads to being a startup entrepreneur at which time it's okay to be working on your startup.

Until then, consider an alternative start.

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