How to Stop Comparing Yourself as a Co-Founder
Building a startup can be lonely work. It’s normal to feel anxious that you’re falling behind other entrepreneurs. Startup founders are prone to self-doubt because we’re competitive people who tend to compare ourselves to others. We look around and see others touting their successes on Twitter or receiving positive media attention, and it’s tough not to feel a little jealous.
Nevertheless, viewing other founders’ successes as a measuring stick is a disheartening way to run a startup because it's only ever going to make you feel less-than — even when you’re actually not.
The next time you feel like you’re falling behind other startups, consider these reasons why you might not be lagging as much as you think:
Founders Highlight Their Successes
People are much quicker to share their successes than their failures — this is true throughout the entire human experience, but it’s an especially important fact for entrepreneurs to remember. Never forget that you’re comparing your raw, behind-the-scenes footage to someone else’s highlight reel. Many founders feel pressure (real or imagined) to create the impression that things are going well all the time, and they maintain this facade in front of other entrepreneurs even when it isn’t true.
Social media posts and press releases aren’t reliable indicators of other startups’ progress because most of the time, they’ve been carefully crafted to present the best image possible, not the most honest one. Odds are, there’s a startup just as messy as yours underneath the biased social media feed. You might feel like you’re putting out a dozen fires every day and getting nowhere — but that’s because you have a complete picture of everything going on at your startup. Another startup that appears perfect from the outside is likely struggling with obstacles you simply aren’t seeing because you’re only getting glimpses.
Every Startup Defines Success Differently
Every startup is different. There is no one, correct way to build a startup and no defined finish line — each and every startup is founded with a unique mission in mind. Even startups with similar goals often take vastly different paths to success. It may seem logical at first to look at successful entrepreneurs you admire and take your cues from them, but the benchmarks that other startups use are based on their individual definitions of success. Set your own goals that make sense for your startup — don’t strive for someone else's.
Worrying about other startups’ definition of success will only distract you from setting and reaching the goals that make sense for your startup right now. Better to set your sights on clear goals for your company and judge your progress according to those milestones than waste time comparing apples to oranges.
Progress Isn’t Linear
Just as you shouldn’t compare your startup to similar startups in your industry, you also shouldn’t compare your startup to another startup just because it was founded around the same time as yours. It’s not fun to watch a startup that’s the same age (or maybe even younger) than yours take off faster, but once again, you’re comparing apples to oranges. The pace at which other startups progress has no bearing on the quality of your startup. Don’t fall into the same trap as some founders and abandon a promising startup prematurely because you feel frustrated that you’re “losing the race” against another startup.
When another startup is making headway faster than yours, it isn’t a death sentence. The “race mentality” is understandable — there’s a lot of urgent advice out there about the importance of early, exponential growth — but keep in mind that progress is rarely a straight line. Often, progress loops back on itself numerous times as you refine your business model. Charging ahead with a faulty strategy or a product that hasn’t been tested enough can tank your startup just as easily as tinkering for too long. It’s best to find whatever kind of middle ground you need to build a sustainable framework for your company.
Startups Are Personal
Building a startup is a personal journey just as much as a professional one. Entrepreneurship is very different from other kinds of jobs in that there’s no “right” way to do it. Your journey as a startup founder will look very different from anyone else’s — not only in terms of the business decisions you make, but also in terms of the way you experience the journey as an individual.
Founding a startup and developing it from an idea to a company is an enormous challenge that demands personal growth throughout the whole process. Every founder begins their journey with different strengths, weaknesses, and experiences and gains new ones along the way. Your goals for personal growth are probably not the same as the personal goals of the founder you’re comparing yourself to, even if you have the same type of startup. Obsessing over other entrepreneurs and comparing your qualities against theirs is pointless because they are different people on different personal journeys.
Analyzing other companies is, in fact, a necessary part of building a startup, but don’t allow yourself to obsess over the competition by telling yourself you’re doing research. There’s a difference between competitor analysis and unhealthy comparison.
Competitor analysis is a critical step in the startup formation process that involves identifying your startup’s most significant competitors and evaluating various factors like their fundraising stage, valuation, and USP (unique selling point). Conducting this analysis enables you to gauge your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and informs how you’ll position your company. It also shows investors that you’ve done your due diligence. However, be careful not to let analyzing competitors’ numbers turn into measuring yourself against their success.
How to Stop Comparing Yourself
Entrepreneurs are naturally passionate people with a drive to succeed, but don’t let your competitive nature spiral out of control and become an obstacle. Comparisons are almost always not only inaccurate, but irrelevant. Using another startup’s progress as a metric will only distract you from what you should be focusing on: developing your startup. Here are a few tricks you can use to stop stressing about what other startups are doing:
- Find a mentor. Mentorship is one of the best ways to break out of the comparison rut founders often find themselves in. When you have a mentor you can talk to about your self-doubt, it’s much easier to identify and filter out the unhelpful comparisons. Instead of constantly looking over your shoulder to gauge your progress by where everyone else is at, you can get feedback directly from an unbiased source who will give you expert opinions that are relevant to your startup journey, not someone else's.
- Create your own definition of success for your startup and focus on that instead of the competition. If you don’t set clear goals up front, you’ll almost surely end up measuring yourself against the people around you. Define what you want to achieve from the start and don’t let someone else’s idea of success influence that goal.
- Keep a journal of your successes and failures. By journaling every setback and achievement, you’ll have a record of your progress to look back on whenever you feel like you’re stuck. Plus, it will help you spend more time thinking about your startup instead of other people’s startups.
- Make a list of all your startup’s strengths and accomplishments. Then, consider what someone would say about your startup if this list was the only information they had about it. You’re likely only seeing the best of that startup you’re comparing yours against — don’t forget that “only the best” of your startup probably looks just as good.