The Startup Founder Hero's Journey
An Epic set to Paramore's "After Laughter"
There’s not enough realistic startup fiction out there and none of it is musical so I made a 12 Book Epic with a narrative arc emotionally aligned with Paramore’s fantastic “After Laughter” album from 2017
Book 1 - “Hard Times”
Our plucky founder finally has an earned secret!
She's convinced this idea will change the world and is full of fire to prove it.
So she sets off into the wilderness and soon faces her first obstacle.
She hits a wall immediately as she struggles to raise her first round of funding to make her dream a reality.
Book 2 - "Rose-Colored Boy"
She finally finds an investor! There's just... a few strings attached.
The only investor interested is happy to lead her initial funding round, but the fuding is conditional on getting her to focus on a B2B implementation first.
That’s not and never was her product vision.
Honestly, she doesn't feel great about it, but just wants a chance to prove herself (and really doesn't have any other option).
Book 3 - "Told You So"
She just launched the B2B MVP.
Initial traction seems good!
Yet our hero still feels something isn't... quite... right.
She’s convinced it's not product-market fit, but she doesn't really have the data to sway anyone either way yet. She’s a professional though, so she swallows her pride and leans in to start doubling down on her investor's advice.
Book 4 - "Forgiveness"
User growth stalled shortly after that MVP launch.
The big splash they made was probably just a function of their great marketing campaign instead of really solving a painful problem for their target users.
The immediate drop in usage is dramatic and embarrassing.
Amidst the uncertainty, our hero hears some rumblings from an angel investor friend that her lead investor has been softly shopping around the idea of a takeover of her startup. When she confronts him about it he immediately apologizes and tries to repair the relationship, but the trust has been lost.
Book 5 - "Fake Happy"
Our Hero takes a break from the startup grind to visit her friends and family back home over the holidays.
She used to love seeing everyone, but after one “accidentally too honest” interaction with her childhood best friend she becomes hyperaware of how little her support network understands her life now. Nobody can relate and they can’t really gauge what’s a true crisis vs just a frustration so they immediately adopt a vague, anxious, and unhelpful aura of worry.
So she spends the rest of the holiday spreading positivity about how things are “a grind, but good” and “ups and downs, but still fun” and “she’s glad she’s doing this adventure while she’s young”.
By the end of her trip, she’s pretty tired of bearing the weight of a brave face to spare the ones she loves.
Book 6 - "26"
She's back at her desk after the unrestful holiday and knows she needs to pivot hard.
Conversations with her lead investor are strained.
She's not sure what to do next, but knows she still has that earned secret in her pocket that she really believes will unlock something special.
Book 7 - "Pool"
6 weeks later, she's got it.
It's her original insight, but with a twist.
Not a bullshit twist, an honest-to-god differentiated offering.
Plus a new, compelling go to market pretty close to her original pitch to investors, but with sustainable unit economics and a clear sequence of customers to target one after another.
Her lead investor has already written off the company so he doesn't really push back when she informs him of the pivot.
There's no real proof yet it's the right idea, but it's the best chance she's had in months.
Book 8 - "Grudges"
It's not product market fit, but there's definitely something there.
It's the earliest vibrations of momentum.
She can feel it, even if her team can't. She's trying to manage morale as she pushes the pace to increase the speed of shipping. It’s getting tough to keep everyone excited.
Her only source of energy is that the winding paths through the Idea Maze are starting to reveal themselves to her in a way she’s confident hasn't felt before and she's got her bottle ready to capture that lightning.
Book 9 - "Caught in the Middle"
She can feel it.
It's so painfully close.
PMF is still not there yet though.
Funds are getting low. Her team is in pivot hell, but with each pivot she can feel them getting closer to the product that's going to pop. It's not obvious from the outside, but there is real, tangible, visceral progress being made with each release.
There are no shortcuts.
Book 10 - "Idle Worship"
She did it.
They did it.
At least for now.
They have thousands of app downloads per day and every engagement metric they're tracking is actually increasing the longer a user uses their product.
She has offers from every top VC firm in the world to lead her next round at ridiculously generous terms, but all she remembers is the past year and half of false starts, failed launches, and the compounding pits of despair and anxiety that was her entire universe until literally just a few weeks ago.
Book 11 - "No Friend"
Building the startup is still lonely, just in a different way now.
It’s been a year since they hit product-market fit and she's noticed that people always respond to her messages now.
This makes hitting their targets a lot easier, but she's also very aware of quickly things could revert back to what they were like last year.
When she looks around they've grown the team from 15 to 150 people and now she's not quite sure who's actually there to help build her vision of the future and who's just along for the ride.
Book 12 - "Tell Me How"
She doesn't really know anyone at her company anymore.
They've grown from 150 people to 1500 people in the past 18 months and they did it profitably.
She's got eye-popping acquisition offers on the table - she’s especially drawn to the ones without an earnout - and wonders if her company has outgrown her capabilities.
Maybe it's outgrown her vision too.
It's still fun most days, but the inexorable gravity of the corporate energy she's spent the last 48 months desperately running away from is undeniably starting to pull her in.
She’s never had this much control over her own life before and wonders if that’s actually a good thing.
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Let me know if you enjoy this sort of content and I'll probably do more.
I hope this made you feel something
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