We both entered management consulting directly out of undergrad, with Brent at McKinsey and Andrew at Bain. We received promotion offers from the analyst role and had the path laid out to try and make a run at partner. That is, until we quit to launch a sports media startup.
The intention of writing this is to share the process we went through for deciding to make the jump, then actually going through with it. It’s not our ‘success story’ – there’s still mountains to move to earn the license to one day write that one. But this is how the journey started.
Some upfront context
We enjoyed consulting and would recommend it to anyone; it’s a dynamic place to learn from great people and develop at an amazing rate. At the same time, we felt compelled to get some different experience early in our careers. Launching a startup wasn’t always the plan, but we hatched an idea together and got hooked on the challenge of building something from scratch.
Coming up with the idea; when do you know you know?
Two things to remember: the idea will evolve, and the path forward will always be uncertain. We were sitting at a bar in Omaha at the College World Series lamenting how some people get left out of sports conversations at work because they know nothing. We originally set out to serve the most casual of sports fans. We then pressure tested the idea incessantly by talking to over 100 people in our perceived target market. Their feedback and reactions helped guide our thinking, and we honed in on our current target of busy people who want to stay up to speed on the sports that matter without investing a ton of time.
Communicating your intentions; when is the time to leave?
An inherent element of consulting firms is that they are used to employees leaving, and we were fortunate to work in supportive and open environments. We tried to be unequivocally transparent about our intentions and timeline for leaving. We picked a date in July that gave us some lead time before football season, and gave McKinsey and Bain north of 6 months notice.
Preparing for battle; how do you get ready?
We tried to do as much homework and networking as possible ahead of launching. Two of our favorite resources were Stanford’s ‘How to Start a Startup’ series with Y-Combinator’s Sam Altman and the book The Founder’s Dilemmas (one major one we ignored: starting a business with your friend). These helped us come up with plans for once we launched full-time, but also prepared us for what to expect emotionally. A prevailing sentiment: one of the hardest things to manage is your own psychology. Which brings us to…
Coping with fear; what’s the emotional cost of launching a company?
The first is tangible: the fear of going belly-up, being broke, and having to start over completely on the path to building a career (and a 401k). Andrew is married and Brent is engaged; this fear is real, and it has consequences. We can come to grips with this one without much trouble. We both have marketable skills and could hopefully find a new job if Primer stalls. A lack of financial flexibility on a day-to-day basis is tougher, as our friend groups didn’t also forego their incomes and they still enjoy doing young professional activities that cost money. We skip out now more than we used to, and that’s a tradeoff.
The intangible fear of potential failure, of being a failure, is harder to stomach. Launching anything is notable; start a B2C company, and it’s almost certain that everyone you’ve met will know what you’re up to. It becomes an inextricable part of your identity. If we were to turn off Primer and do something else, everyone would know that we failed.
We also purposefully take time to reflect on what we’re getting out of this process, way beyond any financial metrics. The people we’ve met, the skills we’ve gained, the depths of emotional highs and lows and the challenges of trying to make something work. We didn’t really know how this would feel until we tried it, and now that sense of ‘being in the arena’ is something we’ll carry with us forever.
We can get comfortable with that.
Looking in the rearview; any advice for someone thinking of trying this?
Take yourself down the path of a bad day during your potential venture. What will still be true about what you’re getting out of it? Does that excite you enough to justify the monetary, psychological, and work-life balance tradeoffs? The opportunity cost is huge, so if the answer isn’t clear, keep banking paychecks until you know for sure.
One more thing: Find great advisors, even if it takes time. We’ve now formalized agreements with mentors we feel are adding a ton of value and helping us move Primer along. But it took awhile to get there. You need a meaningful connection for a busy, more experienced person to believe in you and lend their time and resources. Ask your network liberally for the right person you should talk to who might give you some advice. We’ve had hits and many misses, but we still learned from the meetings that didn’t click.
We’re singularly focused on growing our readership and becoming a distinctive sports media offering. In our first 5+ months, we’ve found that the feeling of being brand new hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Brainstorming where to go and how to get there is such a fun intellectual challenge. We’ve got some big things planned to run down in 2016. Now it’s time to chase.