A personal reflection
An advisor and entrepreneur friend of mine recently asserted, “starting a company is an unnatural act.” He continued, “you bring together people without preexisting relationships — they aren’t family, they aren’t friends — and ask them to work together in close proximity.” An unnatural act. That’s how the past two years have felt but I am grateful for the journey.
Today, it’s been two years since we started Parabol. When I put myself back to that time — I was at a professional crossroads. My former consultancy, Undercurrent, was bankrupted by its acquirer. It was turbulent, full of sadness but also possibility. For me, starting Parabol was the only option. It’s an itch that must get scratched.
Starting a company is an unnatural act. In the midst of scratching the itch, it’s easy to perceive the forces trying to pull it apart. It’s not as easy to sense and acknowledge the forces that pull the company together. In the end, it’s the sum of these forces that decide whether or not what you’re building will stand the test of time.
In keeping things together, I’ve discovered there is perhaps no more powerful an attractive force than the process of looking backward together to create a shared narrative and journey. Hell, it works to keep yourself engaged in what you’re doing. Contextualizing bits of the last two years is what I’m doing right now. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
One must work on onesself, to make this work at all. I’ve learned more about myself in the past two years than any other previous period in my life. I didn’t want to. I had to. Uncertainty had never been higher: in the span of 6 months Trump was elected; we nearly ran out of cash; I was flying weekly between Tampa, Florida (for a client), San Francisco (for Alchemist), and New York City (then, home); planned a wedding, fell out with my best friend over said wedding, raised a funding round, got married, and moved across country. I had the first panic attack of my life. It was a halting experience. It turned out, the halt was exactly what I needed: I took a vacation. I started meditating regularly. I began working with a therapist. I hired a personal trainer. I began playing the guitar.
By focusing on my mental health and mindfulness, I tend to act more from love than fear. And this, I’ve discovered, makes all the difference.
Relationships are a lever, and their own reward. Starting a company necessitates meeting many new people and building many new relationships. Celebrated Bay Area advice abounds with examples of extracting transactional value from folks — sociopathic and scientific techniques for negotiation, ad copy, lead negotiation, and more. I would never put into doubt the metrics many of these techniques put up, but, to me they pale in value compared to making an authentic relationship. This is a personal strategy (and strategy is about choice) for an uncertain world. You never know who you’re going to need by your side. An example of how I apply this: when candidates turn us down because the timing isn’t right, I commonly offer to help them get a job someplace else.
Our company will be successful because of our relationships, not despite them.
Cadence is key. If we knew where we are going we’d be there already. We have a vision, but the path to getting there is unknowable. Without our rhythm of making a weekly plan and reflecting on our accomplishments, our monthly backlog scrubs, our alternating new-build/bug-fix development cycles, or our all-team in-person retreats it’d be impossible to make sense of where we’ve been or where we are going.
Good thing we make a product that helps others work this way too 🙂
I get up in the mornings with a tingle in my toes for what we are doing. I have the privilege to choose to do this and I am thrilled and grateful to be allowed to do this another year.
A huge thank you to all of the folks who’ve been with us on the journey and a preemptive thank you for all of those we’ve yet to meet.