Running a startup is like staring at yourself in the mirror completely naked. You are able to clearly identify all of your flaws that others cannot see when you’re fully clothed. Despite any external evidence of your success over time, you’re unable to internalize your accomplishments as others see them externally.
If you’re anything like me, you may even take it one step further by dismissing your success as luck, timing or that you’re deceiving others into thinking you’re more successful than you really are.
There’s actually a name for this phenomenon, its called impostor syndrome. Research began on impostor syndrome back in 1978 with the work of psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They studied women with notable achievements who had high levels of self-doubt and low confidence. It’s well documented that very successful entrepreneurs struggle with this phenomenon well beyond their startup days.
When I launched Yashi with my wife in 2007, we had to “fake it ‘till we made it’. While that helped convince our earliest customers, employees and investors to join us on our journey, I’ve never felt as though we’ve actually “made it”. That’s largely because our goals continue to expand and evolve, and we continue to compare our success with our counterparts in the online video advertising industry.
Just a few years ago I shied away from any media exposure or press. Based on my perception of their success, I felt inadequate and insecure with our progress. I thought I’d feel much more secure and confident once we had grown as big as they were then.
Below is an illustration that indicates the difference between the perception and reality of Yashi’s success compared to its counterparts.
In 2010, I felt insecure and inadequate compared to our industry counterparts. They were celebrating their milestones in the press, with a larger teams and revenues than we had. However, today our team and revenue is as large as theirs in 2010. I still feel insecure about celebrating our successes publicly because our peers have grown proportionally over the years, and as a result, they’re still larger than Yashi is today.
Another reason I have justified my feelings of inadequacy is that nearly all of the ad tech startups we are compared to have raised as little as $12 million and as high as $191 million through VC’s and/or IPO’s.
Our peers have never let the size of their counterparts get in the way of celebrating their successes publicly, and maybe that’s the learning lesson.
We really shouldn’t compare our success to our peers, at least that’s what every book and blog says. But the reality is, we all do it.
Nearly 14 years later, I’m still learning from the founders of HotOrNot. Having inspired Mark Zuckerberg, myself and many others, these guys practically invented social media. This time, their inspiration comes in the form of a fearless photo, taken of them standing naked and fully exposed for the world to see them as they are, holding low rating cards.
Today, there are companies like buffer, run by forwarding thinking founders Joel & Leo, that are leading the workplace transparency movement. They write amazingly transparent investor updates on their blog, exposing their strengths and weaknesses for everyone to see. They don’t shy away from press based on their size compared to their counterparts, in fact, its just the opposite.
We have continued to bootstrap Yashi. To date, we have not raised a large institutional round of investment like our peers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be proud of our successes. I believe there is too much of an emphasis and celebration on raising large rounds of institutional capital in the startup community, forcing binary outcomes. But I digress, I’ll save that for another post.
Moving forward, I will attempt to be more transparent, fight my insecurities and try to celebrate our successes.
So here goes…
Today, Yashi is a 2x Inc 5000 company; We have a lot to be proud of. We have had 64% revenue CAGR since 2008, with our 2013 revenue above $14 million. We plan to keep that revenue growth rate in 2014, as we continue to grow our staff beyond the current 25 employees. We have built a programmatic video ad platform that analyzes over 40 billion monthly video views and delivers hundreds of millions of monthly video ads. We should be celebrating these accomplishments more, and we will.
At the end of the day, it will take a lot of courage for me to be more transparent moving forward. I’ve been inspired by Joel & Leo of Buffer, and I believe our team deserves to be celebrated more.