Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Psychological Need to Promote Your Company (Even if it Annoys Everyone Around You)

Recently David Heinemeier Hansson published a blog post about the fact they're never selling their company, 37signals. "37signals for life!" is their proverbial battle cry. Subsequently "DHH" took some fairly universal flaming about over-promoting themselves and over-generalizing. At first I was right alongside these folks. "Another post about how great 37signals is and how we should all be like them," I lamented.

But going back and reading the post again, I think I know where sentiments like these are coming from. Where all the self promotion and very public lessons learned are originating. I think I have a sense of their souls. :)

Besides a small investment from Jeff Bezos, 37signals built their company from scratch. They've also been at it for 10 years. 10 years of worrying how they're going to pay the bills, 10 years of worrying about if their customers are going to buy their product, and 10 years of constant strategizing. 10 years of ups, downs, and everything in between to try and figure out how to make money and be a successful business. For the past few it has looked easy, but unless you've lived it, it's also easy to forget that for the majority of those 10 years I'm sure it felt slow and long and sometimes painful. The fact now that they're rolling in dough, have a best selling book, and have complete control of their own destiny has to feel pretty damn good. And they did it without a lot of outside help, without a heavy infusion of cash and a bunch of people trying to guide their destinies for their own benefit. In every business sense, they've "made it."

When you start a company and decide to live and die for any period of time by your revenues vs. investment, it's practically the only thing in your life that is completely yours. You control it. If you make a decision and it works out, you reap the rewards. If you make a decision and it doesn't go your way, you suffer. You created this beast, you guide it, you own it. That level of freedom is unparalleled in practically any other aspect of your life and psychologically, they must feel the need to promote it to continue to sustain themselves.

We've had some pretty nice wins recently ourselves. But instead of celebrating those accomplishments, I find myself just worrying more, being perpetually paranoid about what comes next. The best analogy I can paint is like being a junky. I need the next hit of success; each previous one never quite being enough to satisfy me for long. My friends and family don't get it when I tell them for example that Microsoft is a new client, yet I'm still listing 5 other things that aren't so good. In some ways these caveats and lack of satisfaction are strong drivers. But I've begun to realize it's also quite damaging at a personal level to never celebrate your success.

This is it. This is what running your own company is all about. Celebrating successes whether large or small is all you have. If you don't honor success in some way either publicly or privately and just bask in it, even for 5 minutes, what's left?

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