Over the last year or or so I’ve leveled up. Leaving my job at Ann Taylor to jump back into a new company, building the playAPI plaform, beginning our corporate sales cycle and discussing our vision with the wider start up and venture community has kept me on my toes. I have learned a tremendous amount and feel stronger and more capable than ever. The gameplay of my life is substantially more difficult but that is the downside of doing well. Life gets harder.
Now I’ve played through the game the long way since the sale of my first start up Coutorture to Sugar Inc. I took the time in between the sale of Coutorture and the start of playAPI to learn my craft, explore corporate structures, immerse myself in the brand marketing landscape and gain the intellectual, professional and emotional traction necessary for my second company to succeed. I know my field and have acquired genuine expertise and have the network, portfolio and client trust to prove it.
Now I am not saying everyone has to go the long way around to gain the kind of professional maturity that comes with the depth of immersion in one’s field but it certainly helps you cope with the big bosses of start up uncertainty when they jump out at you from nowhere. I leveled up the hard way and while I don’t always appreciate playing life on hard mode I know it makes me a more agile player.
It is with that insight that I have come to wonder if incubators might potentially be doing some founders the disservice of leveling up too quickly. The goal of incubators is surely to help you play through as fast and as hard as possible to mimic the natural leveling up process of playing on your own. However, I wonder if they always accomplish that.
They certainly help you achieve visibility with both backers and clients and that excitement can often force a swifter mental evolution. Your feedback loops are tighter. The downside can be that having that support and mentorship means that someone guided you through the possible pratfalls preventing failure. You didn’t necessarily earn that knowledge. Someone handed it to you by pointing out what routes to take and what weapons to choose.
For all that start up culture claims to love failure we are quite ready to hand out cheat codes to avoid the little failures that help you learn. The newest generation of founders are now intertwined with the incubator system, a presumption we have all bought into that if we can help them avoid failures our ecosystem will become stronger.
Except eventually you play on your own. The keen hand helping you avoid taking a wrong turn or using the wrong weapon is removed. And you have to fight some new boss no one else has defeated. And if you are solving new problems and tackling new markets I can only hope you do find those new bosses. And that you have built the muscles and picked up the weapons to defeat it. Because sometimes there is no substitue for playing it as it lays.
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