44 ● Inc. ● NOVEMBER 2018 ● ● ● ● ● ●
thomas goetz b LAUNCHPAD
When Do You Stop
Being a Startup?
You’ve succeeded in keeping all those
balls in the air for a couple of years. Now
it’s time for your next trick.
enough that I inspire every person on my team at every
opportunity, as I did that frst day?
If you’re a semi-successful startup, you may be able to throw
money at the problem, ofering swell perks and extra options.
But those aren’t real solutions. Those are largely extrinsic motivations, not intrinsic ones: They depend on external factors
like wealth and status to keep people engaged. They don’t tap
into the core motivations that most humans, particularly those
of us drawn to startups, bring to work every day—things like
purpose, meaning, mission. We want to be part of something
important. We want to be part of a company that is going places.
That’s why we went this startup route in the frst place.
So what now?
We were fortunate that Iodine was acquired by GoodRx,
about three and a half years in. That event reset our clock
and work and expectations. It recalibrated our team to be part
of something bigger. For us, the acquisition was the perfect
wake-up call at the perfect moment. My sense is that every
startup, to be successful, must at some point go through a
similar recalibration. After all, the game plan in year 7 or 8 is
almost never the same as the one on the frst day. And if you’re
lucky enough to get there, your hard-won wisdom will almost
certainly be more valuable and useful than those early dreams.
That’s the stuf that people really want to know from Quora.
By the way: For the founders of startups, Quora isn’t just
a reference source of knowledge; it’s a model in and of itself.
Quora kicked of in 2009. Nearly 10 years later, it’s still a startup,
whatever that means. The company hasn’t had that big exit
that allows the team to breathe and the founders to rest on their
laurels. Here’s hoping it pulls something of soon—and is
willing to tell that story to entrepreneurs.
(@tgoetz) is a
Iodine, a digital
based in San
n the early days of starting a company, every
entrepreneur is full of confdence and ignorance
in equal measure. We’re all whistling in the
dark, unsure of what’s ahead and feeling very
lonely. And as we search for some signal in the
silence, we all end up at the same place: Quora.
Quora was made for, and by, entrepreneurs.
Sure, “Data Visualization,” the frst category on
my homepage, ofers about 14,000 followers.
But go to “Startups” and there are 3. 5 million.
“Entrepreneurship”? You’ll fnd 4. 5 million seekers of wisdom.
And 27 million curious folks follow “Business”—and so on.
Quora, it seems, is where we entrepreneurs all go to ask:
Where am I? And what should I do?
This thirst for guidance, for something to measure against,
to know what the heck other people in my shoes did, is what
I remember most about my own early days, when I started
Iodine fve years ago. I went to Quora for wisdom on corporate
structure (C corporation or B Corporation or LLC?), fair equity
grants, and 83(b) elections, and for advice on how to turn
contract workers into full-timers and—once or twice—how to
let someone go. Pretty much any question I had someone on
Quora had had before. And if the answers didn’t always put me
on autopilot, they usually helped me spot the guardrails.
Those days were flled with exuberance and novelty. I was
fueled by a fre to get this thing going. I was eager to build a
new company, and Quora was going to fll in the blanks in my
experience. The energy was everything.
But fve years is a long time. Given today’s typical career
trajectory, fve years could be one or two jobs. And if you’re
leading a startup, fve years is a curious, in-between place.
You’ve survived a purge or two; you could not have made it
this far without some amount of success.
Still, you’re not there yet. So you sit, trying, as ever, to
make this business a real one. And you’re far enough along
that the early enthusiasms have waned and wandered. You’re
in a weird place. And now your questions are a bit more existential than those covered in Quora. They’re more like: How
do I keep my team motivated and inspired? How do I revive
my mission when the dream I sold my team fve years ago is,
well, fve years old? And how do I keep myself confdent