As a founder of start-up, the other founder and I built a humorous but practical definition of our working relationship: I was clouds; he was the sunshine. But that was my role: I was the more experienced of the two of us and part of the reason the two of us got investment in the first place was that we could keep up that positive message but always present it in a way that appeared not only optimistic, but that it had some critical thought applied to it.
I think you always have to project a credible optimism - we think we're gonna do well not because mom and dad always told me I'm great, but because we have (the right team, right approach, a good product, we've learned from our market, etc., etc.).
That's not to say we were never self-deceived. Oh, that's happened too. Ultimately, it's helped to keep running some scenarios in your own mind to check the following:
- Your venture is profitable, or on the road to it
- You're picking up new skills, making new business relationships - paving a way to a better personal future even if the venture doesn't reach its potential
- Your sacrifice is worth your equity stake, if you have one. If you haven't calculated not only what your equity could be worth, but under what scenarios you'll be able to get actual money for the equity, then you're flying blind. What's all the rah-rah optimism going to get you if it really isn't (or isn't likely going to be) worth anything?
And a note of conscience:
- As a leader, owner, CEO, whatever of a start-up, you're asking others to risk their assets, their careers, working lives. Be sure you realize what you're asking for before you hype up what you're offering in return.