How can I get over the emotional baggage from my failed startup?
March 8, 2012 6:21 AM Subscribe
I was bullied out of one startup and joined another one that is struggling. How can I regain my professional confidence and move on with my life?
I started a software company with a work colleague when I was in my early twenties. It was more popular than we had expected, and what had been a bit of fiery fooling around quickly turned into a serious, bootstrapped business.
Which was when the bullying started.
I have always had some self-esteem issues, which meant that I wasn't as assertive as I should have been. There was a whole litany of things that were obviously designed to subjugate me, which he argued into the structure of the company. But in person, he would tell contacts and even customers that I wasn't the "sort of person [he] would be friends with". He would complain that I had been invited to do an interview or a blog post and he hadn't. He would make fun of me when we were meeting partners. And, later, he would frequently complain that I didn't seem stressed enough about the company and accuse me of having a trust fund to fall back on. (I'm not from a wealthy background and definitely don't have a trust fund, but do have an accent from a particular geography which is often associated with such things.) There were a million little digs, and sometimes big blowouts, that served to undermine my role in the company, even while I was building the product almost single-handedly, doing most of the communications, talking to potential customers, speaking about it, doing promotion, and so on.
Eventually, I came to decide that this was an abusive relationship, albeit a business relationship. The company disappeared just over a year later, although the product still exists. Despite everything, I'm very proud of what we achieved.
I did some private consultancy, and finally wound up with another startup company. Despite putting my heart and soul into building a product for them, it may not succeed. I also know that because of the resources available, and the pressures involved in the company (the strategy, too often, is to build our way out of problems), I haven't done my best work. The product works well but it could be so much better, in part because of compromises I needed to make, in part because of very poor management decisions, and in part because of both.
I don't have creative control over the product I'm building, and am managed to the extent that I feel guilty if I step away from my computer. I don't think this is abusive in the same way: the people involved are so much nicer. Nonetheless, it's still a form of control.
Most importantly, I still have ideas that burn at me, and through these experiences over the last ten years I feel like I've learned enough to start another company: a real business that has every chance of succeeding. It's one of those ideas that I can't stop thinking about, and I'm excited to get started. But I'm scared that I'll fall into the same trap, and I'm scared that these two failures have affected my reputation.
How can I bolster my confidence and return to productivity?