What's being a founder like? A series.

February 23, 2021
Markus Ahlberg

Someone with a budding idea for a startup recently asked me what being a founder was like and I found it tricky to give them an honest and complete answer. It’s incredible to see something you’ve imagined actually take form. It’s amazing to hear a user rave about your product. But most of the time -- literally most hours -- it’s awful. It’s terrifying and the incessant feeling of doubt, loneliness and so many other unpleasant feelings make you question whether it’s worth it.

I had no idea what it would be like when I started down this journey. Before Feelmo I spent five years at an investment bank where I was fortunate enough to support several incredible entrepreneurs IPO¹ their companies (including Swedish unicorn² Sinch and Tobii). I was blown away by the founders then, but it’s only now that I’ve changed my suit for a t-shirt and started Feelmo that I can begin to fully understand what they must have been through. It's only know that I can understand their perseverance and their incredible ability to take an idea and by sheer force of will surviving 180-changes, unrelenting moments of doubt and all the rejection and nay-sayers to create something that lasts.

I want to share my personal experience of what being a startup founder is like. Given that we focus on feelings at Feelmo, I thought it would make sense to begin this series there too. I want describe the feeling of excitement you get when you hear a user describe how Feelmo is helping them feel better, the doubt you feel when seasoned investors wonder what’s so special about your idea, the feeling of elation and progress you feel when you see the number of users grow and you don't know why or where they're coming from, the feeling of inadequacy as you consider everything that needs to be done and the feeling of loneliness and panic when you think about the runway³ ending and not having enough lift under your wings to raise additional funds.

The purpose of this series isn’t to scare anyone away or make suffering seem cool. I just want to give you an idea of what my journey has been like and how I've learnt to cope with this emotional roller coaster. It won't be all me though. I also plan to feature the experiences and insights of others who’ve been through the journey or who are still winding their way through the wilderness of entrepreneurship. First post coming soon.

(Want to help out or share your experiences? Reach me on Twitter, @mahlb,  markus@feelmo.com or schedule a time to speak with me here.)

Read more: Check out Ben Horowitz’ The Struggle blog post. Horowitz perfectly captures the feelings of an entrepreneur and includes some of his own recommendations for how to survive through it all:

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place...

The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer...

The Struggle is when you go on vacation to feel better and you feel worse...

1) Super simplified: sell their companies to the stock exchange. More advanced: sell their shares (or new shares) in their companies to institutional (mostly) and retail (some…) investors and list them on a stock exchange so they become tradable

2) Startup lingo for a company valued at more than one billion dollars

3) Startup lingo for how many months you can continue operating before the money runs out

Thank you to Ben Rosett for the wonderful photo!

Markus Ahlberg
Hi! I'm the founder of Feelmo. I'll be writing occasionally about my struggles in understanding and managing my feelings as well as about the emotional roller coaster ride that being an early-stage founder is.

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Feelmo Ltd.
London, UK