The Ups & Downs: How Startup Life is Like a Rollercoaster

Aug 21, 2013
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Roller Coaster

This guest post is written by Mark Fabian Henkel (@mrkhnkl) Co-founder and CEO of Paymill, a young startup that offers the fastest and easiest way to integrate credit and debit card payments in websites and mobile applications.

I sometimes wonder why Start-up CEOs or other entrepreneurs are not committing suicide more often. Just kidding! But honestly who can stand this rollercoaster without any injuries? The answer is simple: It is the belief in success, the confidence in a happy ending that keeps everybody working on his dream – somewhat similar to gold-diggers.

But what exactly is the rollercoaster? More precisely what is on the top where you can oversee the city and the amusement park and what is on the bottom where your sickness reaches the limit? Let’s take the picture literally:

You sit in the car, front seat of course, and you accelerate. You build up speed and traction. You attract your first customers and you can feel something is going on. You climb higher and higher with your car and on the first peak you realize, “Wow! We can do this! We can build a real company.”

Just like in a real rollercoaster, there’s this short moment of perceived invulnerability – just before the car runs down again, you see the loop approaching and start to feel sick. This happens because your beta is maybe not as release-worthy as expected or you forget an important meeting or some of most important co-workers quit as they receive aggressive offers from your competitors.

During my research for this blog post (I have to admit that I haven’t been on a rollercoaster in ages), I found out that the big loops are never in the first section of a ride. The evil rollercoaster architects – your market – save the loops for the middle section and the double loops, free falls or “Immelmann Turns” for the last part. So you cannot expect your life as an entrepreneur to become quieter anytime soon.

There will be a time when your head is upside down at 100 km/h and you realize that your 5-people team has grown to 35 and that your “we solve everything conjointly at a bar with 5 beers strategy” does not work anymore. This is the time when you work against the next downhill ride with rules, structures and real governance.

And the free-fall, you know that special moment in a rollercoaster-ride shortly before the end. This is similar to the exit, be it an IPO or selling to a strategic investor. I have to admit that I have not faced this part of the rollercoaster yet, but it will be the maximum change from top to bottom, from high-speed to low, I guess. It will change a lot. Think about the regulatory changes due to an IPO and the differences due to the change in the ownership structure once you sell your company.

For those of you who really like rollercoasters – don’t take me too serious! Because you’ll also like the parts when the car goes down the hill. Personally I hate it, I prefer steady uphill movements. But to finish this analogy: At the end of each rollercoaster run you are back at the beginning but much richer in experiences. Think about it.

And just to experience the thrill of it again, I’ll definitely be on a rollercoaster at this year’s Oktoberfest.