Video Of The Week: Surviving Startup Life

This is a talk the Jerry Colonna gave last month in Vienna. It is about how to manage the stress and anxiety of being a startup founder and CEO.


Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Heading to Green Market, but cued up for later.This is something we work at forever.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Grab an oyster for Sam.

      1. awaldstein

        He’s a scallup cat big time!

  2. Andrew Wong

    Jerry is the best!

    1. jerrycolonna

      Nah. You da best.

  3. Twain Twain

    Thanks for sharing and I got to the “Radical Self-Enquiry” bit which I know something about.By coincidence, this week on G+ I shared:”Today would have been my Dad’s birthday — if he hadn’t died following a coma. If my Dad hadn’t died (and in that way), I probably wouldn’t have returned to my childhood interest in AI or tried to understand more about Neuroscience and how the signal:noise in my Dad’s brain was similar to the signal:noise problem across the global brain that is the Web.It made me want to “Do and make something meaningful with my Life” and that segued with a missing piece of the puzzle in AI: how can the machines understand our meaning?During the process of invention, you break your own heart, mind and soul several times over, survive, learn from it and keep crafting because nothing else is as vital and meaningful as what you’re creating.That’s when the artist-scientist in you is invaluable. The chaos of creation happens and you have to command it and make sense of it or you’d just go clinically crazy. Luckily, I’m made of the “strong stuff”.Now, why patent and IP my little system?Well…it matters that women are visible and credited for our innovation and contribution to solving hard problems in technology.”I would not wish the death of a parent to make any founder undergo “Radical Self-Enquiry” to really know WHY they make the system they do and provide the service they do for their users.Most of the time, the reality is that we go through our careers and lives reactively creating products according to some variation or hybrid of existing products because it fulfills a market need.We learn to answer questions in ways we think investors want to hear it; I know because I was on that side of the table.We think in terms of near-term wins: that next promotion, what our nearest competitor is doing, how to grab that customer before they do (e.g. Lyst vs Uber). We work according to someone else’s agenda and vision rather than focus on knowing and doing our own vision really well.Whatever self-enquiry there is can be superficial — or, at the most, 6 layers deep when there are 10 layers to us because the other 4 layers…scare us too much.When my Dad died a strange thing happened. I remembered how fearless I had been as a child because my Dad had gotten us to trek mountains, cross gorges, not be scared we might get electric shocks whilst rooting around with a car battery, try to catch crabs from the rock pools without worrying about our fingers being snipped off by their claws etc.So once the tears dried and the “Radical Self-Enquiry” kicked in……I set about to design and code my perceptions system to solve signal:noise without fearing that I was going against the conventions of the AI community — well, hey, they haven’t solved Natural Language understanding yet so who are they to limit me to maybe inventing a solution? Google’s Behind the Mic on YouTube.And, despite all the challenges and hardships and the “standing still with hair on fire” moments, I hold true to the promise I made to my Dad. That I would do and make something meaningful in my life.

    1. Elia Freedman

      Amazing story, Twain Twain. I am always amazed at what drives each of us to do the stuff we do.

      1. Twain Twain

        Thanks, Elia.One of the best things about AVC is the diversity and authenticity of everyone’s perspectives.We share best practices, war wounds, skepticisms, wits and the whole spectrum not just of startup life but of our humanness.

  4. Elia Freedman

    Haven’t watched the video yet but something I’ve found that has helped me is exercise. I listen to podcasts so it feels like work while I’m doing it, but it has helped a ton to stay mentally focused and clear-headed.

  5. Kirsten Lambertsen

    The most valuable thing I got out of my startup accelerator experience: the community of startup founders who reflected back to me that I wasn’t alone. It’s why I believe now that if a city wants to become a startup hub, it needs to actively create spaces and opportunities for founders to form a support community (in addition to creating funding opportunities).I spent three intense months with a group of people whom I’ll be friends with the rest of my life. We immediately understood each other.Founders need to hang out together for the same reasons that artists need to hang out together.

    1. Alex Wolf


    2. jerrycolonna

      Exactly right. One of the co-principles I try to teach is the importance of us all being in this together. Sharing the experiences with a group of peers is essential.

      1. jerrycolonna

        Oh and one more thing…the notion of finding those peers is one of the core reasons I shifted my work into The bootcamps and peer groups are a way for folks to get support without hiring a coach.

  6. Matt Zagaja

    I will watch this today, and my gift back to you and the community is my recommendation for a Saturday video: Steve Ballmer giving a lecture to Harvard’s CS50 course.”Being able to tell a story is so important. You want a grant? Tell a story. You want your startup funded? Tell a story.””In life, you have to stay in the weight room. You have to keep evolving, learn new skills, do new things. It’s easy to say, but not many people do it.”…

    1. Richard

      Story Telling: one of my first oversights was not participating in the 5th grade play. I asked the teacher why should I spend my time telling a story to a group of people I don’t know? She had no answer . Steve Balmer does.

  7. LE

    What is work?The saying “an idle mind is the devi’s workshop” comes to mind. Work is something to me that provides value from being an idle mind and/or feeling worthless. As such a day (as much as I hate it) even cleaning up the office makes me feel better (when it’s done) than a day spent sitting around literally doing nothing or spending time at some boring activity. Work is something that provides in the end a sense of accomplishment for some reason. The reason may or may not be important or even matter. Making progress, even on something simple, provides a tremendous amount of benefit regardless of whether anyone else views it as important or not. [1][1] This is really a bit similar to when Steve Job’s father talked about painting the back of the fence even though nobody would see it. The point being that you know you did it and you know you had then done a quality job and that that was the important thing. The reason it was important is because you think so and your brain has been tricked into giving it more importance that it actually has. That’s one of the reasons to not surround yourself with people who don’t share your way of looking at things. If you do they will bring you down by telling you that you are stupid to care about painting the back of the fence and tell you it doesn’t matter. So you will then question yourself and mentally stutter which can lead to unhappiness.

  8. Emily Merkle

    best part: “If you bring forth what is in you”…

  9. LE

    Jerry is right of course fear is “so powerful”. However you have to also separate FUD of things invented in your brain that you can’t get over (lack of admiration from peers or being given the “evil eye” from people that you have dissapointed) from actual fear of things that really will matter (such as not being able to eat or pay your rent and/or having a relationship end because of lack of money). [1]Fred has a great relationship with Joanne. Very possible that would exist even if they had no money and very possible that they would not be together even with the money they have. However it’s well know and quite obvious that lack of money causes problems in life as well as in relationships (statistics exist to show that money causes a large majority of problems in marriage). Consequently failure which will then result in a situation where you don’t have the money that you think you need is something to be fearful of. This is quite different from a fear that you won’t be admired and or that you might be ridiculed by friends or family. Even though that in itself can cause problems as well. (A halo goes a long way in getting someone positive feedback that can make someone happy and lack of a halo can do the opposite.)[1] The problem is the brain has a really hard time separating the two types of fear. I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing though. It’s what drives many people. Lack of fear is also lack of motivation.

    1. jerrycolonna

      See now I think you’re parsing things really well. Understanding the differences between the fears is hugely powerful.

  10. LE

    Jerry, in the part of this video where he talks about “pursing Bill Gates’s wealth” is making a big leap in assuming that everyone who is trying for success has some larger than life almost certainly unachievable goal like “being the next Bill Gates” or being “the next Al Pacino” or “being the next Louis CK” or “being the next [insert some sports star here]. That’s really the problem in a nutshell. Goals and dreams have to be realistic. Common sense tells you that’s not an achievable goal and you are setting yourself of for failure if you think that big. Not to mention that almost certainly (not that it matters) those people didn’t start out thinking they would end up where they ended up. They worked hard and took advantage of opportunity and had luck. They all do and say stupid things. Stop thinking they are gods and that they don’t use a toilet or bleed.On the other hand nobody would be sitting here watching a video of Jerry and reading Fred’s blog if they hadn’t worked hard and busted their ass. “Do as I say not as I did”. (You know Peter Thiel “college is not important” and all of that BS.)I don’t know what Fred’s goals were when he started out (and if you believe what he says he had less than concrete goals and Gotham Gal had to push him to even get into VC). But my guess is that regardless of the story that is told (how he got to where he is) he didn’t decide that he needed to be Henry Kravis (even though he admired him). That’s really the core of the problem here. Stop thinking that there is some great thing about being those people and that that is somehow going to bring you happiness. Try to be realistic with what you can acheive and stop tilting at windmills.As a side not to Jerry when I was in college my father had a heart attack and I found him on the floor as I was getting ready to go to school that day. They took him to the hospital and the doctor said to my mom “your husband is a very sick man”. He was really working his ass off and totally immersed in his business. A constant source of stress and aggravation. He survived and lived another 36 years. That day though I left the hospital and I went to school just like any other day. I didn’t hang around his bedside and I wasn’t for some reason particularly worried or bothered by what had happened. School was important (I had been brainwashed that way) and being in a hospital hanging on every word of the doctor was not how I was raised. I was never bothered by that happening and after that my dad didn’t work any less (he sold the business maybe 5 years later) but he continued to work every single day until he died (doing real estate and other things). My point being I wouldn’t assume (and yes I wasn’t 3 either) that every child is thinking or feeling the same thing. I’m glad my father worked as hard as he did. The fact that my dad worked hard allowed him to have the best medical care and a much better situation when he got older. And not to be a burden on his family either. And my mom has no money problems now and they could do what they wanted to do as well. I don’t think when he died he was thinking “I wish I hadn’t worked as hard I wish I had spent more time with my family”.

    1. jerrycolonna

      LE…thanks for sharing that amazing story. And to be clear, I offer my story only as that…my story. I work really hard now. (After being in Vienna–and Berlin–for a week I flew to NY and then flew back to Europe, to Dublin, to do another talk.) The point I was trying to make was simply this: I was not conscious of the reason why I was making the choices I was making. What I suggest is that being conscious is better than not. 🙂

      1. LE

        (After being in Vienna–and Berlin–for a week I flew to NY and then flew back to Europe, to Dublin, to do another talk.) Would love to see a blog post on what motivates and drives you to do that. I have my ideas of course (I love human nature and what makes people tick it’s a hobby actually).I was not conscious of the reason why I was making the choices I was making.Agree 100% with that. Most people are not thinking. But quite possible they can’t.A really a critical point. I have always been conscious of why I do what I do I have always been that way (not whimsical or spur of the moment). I didn’t take any drugs (and have never done so) when younger because it seemed like a bad path. I thought about it. I thought about “suffer now enjoy later”. And so on.I think much of this comes from a situation similar to what Dan Ariely has described where I believe (from memory) he got burned as a child [1] and spent a great deal of time being able to think about things and why they are. That made him who he is.Because I was not very social and because I didn’t really fit in I had plenty of time (like Dan I think claims) to think and observe. And to do photography alone in the basement! And other similar things. Consequently had I been more popular I wouldn’t be who I am today. My sister was popular so the thought of leaving the public high school like I did (to go to a private school) could never happen. So I can pat myself on the back for being mature enough to “ask my parents to send me to private school” or I can realize that the fact that I wasn’t popular and had nothing to lose played into it. (I would have been a therapist by the way but I recognized the pay wasn’t good!)[1] I actually got burned as a child as well (but not like Dan did) because of something stupid my mom did.

  11. Richard

    during the filming of Hells Angels, Howard Hughes (mortgaging his entire inheritance) filmed a fighter pilot scene. After the filming, he realized that he couldn’t tell how fast the planes were flying because there were no clouds in the background.Before you let fear kick-in, find your clouds.

    1. LE

      Also think a bit about whether you really want to be (of all people) a “Howard Hughes” in other words “be careful what you wish for”. Forgetting for a second how things worked out for Howard, there is something to be said for becoming addicted to larger and bigger things in order to keep up what appears to be an addiction to not having a somewhat normal life. Having money is great. Having to much money or to much fame seems to me to be a large problem in itself. A burden. Fame appears to be a bigger burden than money. Who wants to live in a fishbowl? Would you want to be Mark Zuckerberg? Would you want to be Steve Jobs? How do you survive in the world with that much scrutiny, attention and adulation?

      1. Richard

        yep, that’s one of the clouds, (though I suspect that MZ carefully considered the trade off). As did SJ. Creatives live to create.

  12. Supratim Dasgupta

    Amazing talk.The first thing I did after watching it is fwd the video to my Mom.Almost 95% of the talk is what she tells me everyday and I don’t pay much attention.The portions on meditation,standing still,bathing,drinking water,difference between ‘having to work tonite vs wanting to work tonite’,seeking answers inward…all these she tells me on a daily basis.

    1. jerrycolonna

      Fantastic. I LOVE that you shared this with your mom.

      1. Supratim Dasgupta

        Just HAD to Jerry. I almost fell out of my chair few times as you uttered the exact same words she keeps telling me every single day. You should have seen her chuckle after she watched your video 😉 This is my second startup. And am no longer the 18yr I was during my first so the advice is golden sir.

        1. jerrycolonna

          well she and I have been corresponding for years. 😉

          1. Supratim Dasgupta

            Hehe 🙂

  13. jason wright

    Jerry, in Vienna, and no mention of Sigmund Freud? The talk seemed incomplete.

    1. jerrycolonna

      LOL. He was there…trust me.

  14. William Mougayar

    That’s a great talk. Sometimes I’m not sure which is better- being conscious or not conscious about your fears of the unknown. The courage to keep going forward is an amazing thing.

    1. jerrycolonna

      What if you were conscious of your fears AND still had the courage to go forward?

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes & Yes!

  15. Guy Lepage

    There are a few great quotes in Jerry’s talk. I’d have to say this should be a must for every entrepreneur. 1 hour. But well worth it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. jerrycolonna

      Only a “few?” 😉 Thanks.

  16. Jessica Chavarro

    Thank you for sharing Fred! This was a very enlightening. It’s really refreshing having someone like Jerry share his knowledge in the most honest way about self awareness. I truly admire when someone could open up in such way while embracing their real thoughts and feelings.

    1. jerrycolonna

      Thanks Jessica and belated thanks to Fred for sharing this.

  17. richardaltman

    i haven’t watched this, i already know this is a lonely existence all the time and that we simply have to accept it and become aggravation connoisseurs, my startup experience so far has been long and lonely and doesn’t look to change anytime soon, my sole motivation (not my infinite sub-motivations) is to leave the world better than i found it, my main inspiration is the santa from miracle on 34th street. this forum seems like people actually read the posts, my guess is everyone here is much more ‘inside’ either because their idea is more practical or they simply know ‘someone’ who… either way, you have to be appreciative that you have the physical ability to try and what your doing should be the source of your inertia. ps: as compelling as you are

  18. Alex Murphy

    This is terrific!Thank you for sharing.

  19. John Pepper

    My favorite part starts around 57:45 when Jerry mentions Fred with such colorful descriptors. Can’t believe I’m the first to note that a week later ;)This is a great example of where being stuck sick in bed for the day paid dividends… I don’t know if I would have chosen to take the time to watch an hour long video… and yet I did. An unexpected gift on this snowy Saturday.

  20. jerrycolonna

    Beautiful Carl