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Shot Through the Heart: Startup Love
Thomas Rankin: "Creating a company ain't all roses and chocolate"

Bon Jovi is one of the great poets of our time.* A bard with feathered hair, he succinctly sums up love’s confluence of joy and pain in his immortal line from You Give Love a Bad Name:

“Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame, you give love a bad name.”

There’s a whole lotta love that goes into growing a startup.  The relationships – between co-founders, founders and employees, founders and investors, the company and its customers – are intensely passionate. To wit, I often compare the feeling I get when pitched by a great entrepreneur for the first time to falling in love. You just know you want to be with them.

Startup love is everywhere.  Public displays of affection (PDAs) are widely accepted in the technology community.  Look no further than the seminal industry conference or local startup accelerator stage to see founders and investors primped, shined and fawning over one another. It’s like spring time in freaking Paris. All of this support and affection is, of course, necessary because building a technology company is tough.  The bonds must be tight.  PDAs show the world you believe in one another and they should too.

But creating a company ain’t all roses and chocolate.  Startup love wanes and failure rates are high. Noam Wasserman, author of The Founder’s Dilemma, tells us that an inordinate number of new companies fail because of people problems. As time moves on and the reality of building a company sets in, things change. Investors don’t buy lunch as often as they used to.  Co-founders don’t spend as many late nights playing fuse and eating tacos together.  Employees leave for the new startup hottie in town.

And so it ends.

For the majority of startups, the love fades and those intense passionate relationships die ignominiously. Like a final sigh from Bon Jovi’s overworked hair dryer. 

Almost everyone who has participated in a startup has been shot through the heart.  But in love as in startup life, we keep trying, keep searching for that one everlasting union.  We do it because we love the adventure, the feeling of purpose, the passion. We do it for the quality of the relationships we build and the gratification of trying to make the damn thing work. 

So despite the ongoing heartache, we shouldn’t allow startups to give love a bad name. It’s worth the ride and in any event, there’s always the next pitch.

*Bon Jovi is not, in fact, one of the great poets of our time. I jest.


Thomas Rankin is the investment director at Innovacorp, a Halifax-based early-stage venture capital fund making investments in internet, mobile, cleantech and life sciences. He tweets @rankinthomas and blogs at impossibleconfidence.com

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