Leave the startup circus. Now.

One of the more relevant lessons learned after running my startup the last few years, is to no longer be one of the monkey’s in the startup circus. The bright lights of the startup craze lure in thousands of founders, not realizing they’re just a product in someone else’s show.

While I do value the bells and whistles that come with a startup ecosystem, I care more about the people who are the ecosystem, not those who run the ecosystem. Yes, that’s right. The influence of VC’s firms, politics, personal brands and corporates already dictate the agenda of many, if not most, startup community initiatives. And while most founders are romanticizing what it is to venture under the flag of a pirate ship, they’re actually boarding a tightly run Navy vessel. So how are you supposed to think out of the box, while you’re operating within the confines of someone else’s box?

So here are some lessons learned, and attention points I made for myself:

  1. Stay clear of the startup media. Just be aware of media in general. For most founders, getting coverage in TheNextWeb or TechCrunch is one of the highlights in their careers. If your traction depends on getting picked up by tech blogs, then you might want to rethink your product or strategy altogether. If you are looking to get coverage, get in the leading magazines that are read by decision-makers in your industry. That’s it.
  2. Reduce attending startup events. They’re just a zero-sum game for your business. At a startup-event you will meet startup-people. And these folks are most likely not the audience you’re selling your product to. Right? You should be attending events in the industry you’re trying to sell into. You should be at an industry summit, packed with potential customers. Or at the office working on your product, or at home spending quality time with your family. Don’t let these events waste your precious time.
  3. F#ck startup competitions. For real. I’ve been finalist to more startup events than I can count, won a couple, and spent countless hours filling out entry forms. They come as pitch competitions, innovation competitions, 3 minute pitches, 90 second pitches. The latest perverted trend has it, you can even win an investor. Winning an investor at a startup competition is like winning a teddybear at a shooting alley. Somehow it doesn’t feel right to share your company with someone you didn’t actual vet yourself. Truth is, founders are nothing but the products of a startup competition. Only mediocre companies need startup competitions to raise some moments of glory. Apple, Microsoft, BMW, and many other successful companies never had any use for being in startup competitions to dominate their industries. Think about it.
  4. You’re building a company. Not a startup. Startups are cute, and innovation officers easily write $100k checks for proof of concepts, but this doesn’t mean you’re in business yet. By reframing what you are doing you influence how others perceive your company. Reframe how you are building a company, instead of working on a startup. Do you immediately feel how totally different it rings? Truth is, these innovation officers are paid to keep an eye on startups, and most of them like to be close to passionate people trying something different. The moment that happens, you become the pet of a marketing manager, or innovation officer. If you don’t want to be treated like a startup, stop acting like one.
  5. Carefully evaluate an incubator’s reputation. I’ve been asked as a mentor at some incubators and accelerators, and as time passed I felt sorry for the startups that were lured into these cleverly disguised corporate programs that offer cash at conditions which will only squeeze the life and passion out of these founders in their later fundraising stages. Most of these incubators don’t have the reputation that instils trust by investors, and feed off of the insecurity of inexperienced founders, or that it will offer them some kind of a magical shortcut to get funded or find traction. That’s just perverse on so many levels. Just ask yourself the question if you really-really need one. Chances are you actually don’t…

The reason why I feel so strongly about above mentioned items, is because I played that game. I was actually pretty good at it. Indeed, I was that monkey in the startup circus. And while I had fun, they weren’t the best investments I made in terms of time management. Not even by a long shot.

And while I’m a firm believer of the pay it forward mentality – which is the first and foremost ingredient of the startup ecosystem – I don’t like being lured and tricked into a startup craze.

For me this means, I’ll be working on my next gig and helping others far away from the spotlights. Passionately building a business that aims to dominate its industry. And this means getting rid of all distractions and waste.

So let me take one final bow goodbye to the audience, as this monkey is leaving the circus