The Start-Up Sine Curve

It is nearly impossible to describe to someone else the emotional extremes that encompass the planning, building and releasing of something new. Most describe it as a roller coaster but a roller coaster does not give justice to the extremes, to the sudden ups and downs and the fact that the process smooths over time. I think starting a new product or new company looks more like this:


Time starts to the left and works its way to the right. On the positive side, all the stuff above the line, are all the good things. This includes the accolades, the re-tweets, the positive customers conversations, seeing code turn into a usable product and the plans turning into reality. On the negative side, though, all the stuff below the x-axis, is the negative feedback, the “why in the world would I use this” comments, the ignored emails and delays, server crashes and general human fears and frustrations.

It starts way on the left and juts up and down quickly and rapidly. Sometimes it feels like I go through 10 of these positive/negative swings in the same day and sometimes it feels like I’m wallowing in negativism or sailing on a sea of positive thoughts for weeks at a time.


I turned 40 a few weeks ago and now have almost 20 years of entrepreneurship behind me. One thing that gives me a sense of ease with this process is that I always know what goes down comes back up. (Of course the opposite is true, too, but I prefer not to focus on that.)

The second thing I know is that, over time, the ups and downs even out, the turbulence isn’t so turbulent. As we approach 0, I think that’s the point where we attain product/market fit, the point at which we start seeing a repeatable sales process and positioning that works with prospective clients. This also happens to be the inflection point where companies grow, the point where we share the ups and downs with others.


I’m going through this now. I’m somewhere around the mid-point in the chart, somewhere around -10, on the x-axis approaching a private launch in the next week. Two weeks ago I was mired in code that would break every time I made a change. Then I had some amazing customer conversations followed by some very negative ones. I was bogged down in that for a few days before a few phone conversations with “true believers” helped lift me up. My fears are numerous: where is the money to keep going, the energy to see this through, whether anyone will care and be interested. Can we keep servers up? Can we build something that people are really willing to pay for?

When people say building a start-up is hard, they don’t specify that building the product is only a small portion of the battle. Fighting off the negative demons that affect our dreams is the true center of the fight. What keeps me going, though, is that I know it will get easier in time.

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