The Sphinx in a Startup

sphinx-entrance

Whatever it may otherwise lack, a Startup is blessed with an abundance of unknowns. What is the product? Who is the customer? What is the value proposition? How will you sell? At what price point? The utterly simple yet immensely vexing answer to all these questions is “We don’t know fully”. Of course I jest, but only a little. This is the Sphinx posing its riddles.

In a startup, everything and nothing is open for exploration. Sounds like one of those contradictory Zen statements but believe me there is nothing remotely calm or enlightening about this state.

When friends or ex-colleagues try to comprehend our proposition, there is always a glint of sympathy in their eyes. I almost hear them thinking, “How misguided could you get?”, “Can’t you focus on key features?”, “Where is your execution plan?”, “Are you making money?”, “I did a MVP last weekend, what takes you so much time?” and so on.

Or when arguing about evolving the product in a specific direction with my team, I always feel the tension. Features change, evolve, mutate like a precocious two year old’s imagination. What was to be a journey to India, is possibly leading us to an entirely different continent, while making us feel lost in a wide sea of unknowns.

How do I deal with it? Well, the unknown to me is always a possibility. Something to be unwrapped and explored. As my Guru Sri Aurobindo, says in an aphorism:

The sense of impossibility is the beginning of all possibilities.

To confront impossibility is to stand firm in front of the Sphinx posing its riddles. You stand and answer its questions. The more it questions, the deeper you dig and answer. If you give up, the Sphinx wins.

Whether its rewriting a feature you removed few weeks back. Or venturing into a technical area you know very little about. Or doing a pre-sales call. Or dealing with a hundred less than ideal situations at work and elsewhere. That is the Sphinx presenting itself to you.

The Sphinx is not a statue posing its impossibility on a ocean of sand far far away. The Sphinx is a customized version of impossibility created just for you. To everyone else the riddle is plain, simple and they might think you naive, perhaps even that you are stupid. It could be true too. But this is your impossibility. Your personal Tour De France. Your Everest. This is Xerxes confronting you with his Persian might.

The Sphinx demands answers. The unknown demands exploration. Tenacity is what you must live and breathe. To wake up and greet your unknowns. To welcome them one by one. To dissect and get into and get around them. To do everything but giving up.

And then you might hear one day, as I did earlier today, “This has promise”, in reference to our product. There is still long way to go but hey, even the imaginary sound of seagulls is music to my ears now.

Comments

  1. I must really confess that the depth and intensity of the struggle so expressed through the apparent Egyptian symbol of The Sphinx has depicted in a very direct sense my own tryst with my grim impossibilities. It was as if i wrote the words! It is so especially when you say “To everyone else the riddle is plain, simple and they might think you naive, perhaps even that you are stupid.”

  2. Of-course it is not one man army, everyone working on this should have the same level of fire and intention.I can expect or i can say it is very natural when the org is bound to follow dharma.

    • maheshcr says:

      Indeed. Many of us do this, would not have been possible to come so far if everyone had not pushed hard enough.

      This post was more a soliloquy..me pushing myself.

  3. I have read this blog post before and absorbed the details. Somehow I ended up reading this post again today and I completely understand, able to directly relate to the motions you are going through. To be honest, this has created a profound change on my thought process and perspectives. One closing comment, whether you closely follow your well wishers or not, I am one and will keep following you πŸ™‚

    • My dear Babu…I know you are amongst the few who will get it. Even if I have been stuck with things, you are always there in my conversations as someone who pushes himself to do the right thing. I have goofed up now and then for sure but we have seen way too much together..very few with whom I can relate as I do with you. Will call you this weekend..time to fix things πŸ˜‰

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