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It’s time to stop glamorizing start-ups and start talking real business

Simon Papineau and his team at Crowdsourced Testing
Simon Papineau and his team at Crowdsourced Testing

[Editor’s note: The following is a letter published on LinkedIn on Friday in French by Simon Papineau in response to a feature called “Launch a start-up in 7 days with $700“, written by Julien Brault in the latest issue of Les Affaires, Quebec’s business weekly.

Mr. Papineau’s letter, titled “No, Mr. Brault, it is not possible to launch a start-up in one week with $700” was a cri de cœur written from the trenches by someone who has spent years of his life painstakingly building a profitable company in the tech sector, and watched while articles with frivolous headlines convey the impression that starting a business is some kind of lifestyle choice, like drinking craft beer or growing a beard, or a college fraternity hazing ritual. Indeed, as Mr. Papineau points out, for every success story, like those of Stewart Butterfield or Ryan Holmes or LP Maurice from Busbud, who is mentioned in the article, there are dozens if not hundreds of stories of people who sink years of their lives, a lot of their own money and all of their hope into enterprises that land in the start-up graveyard.

Over the weekend, Mr. Papineau’s letter circulated widely and attracted impassioned comments, leading to an apparently productive exchange between Mr. Brault and Mr. Papineau. The original letter is reprinted in translation below.]

Dear Mr. Brault,

In addition to being a Montreal entrepreneur, I am an assiduous reader of your articles and I followed with interest your guide entitled “Launch a start-up in 7 days with $700”.

My enterprise is not a “unicorn” such as we hear about in the start-up universe.

I have not been looking for millions of dollars in investment and you won’t be seeing me next year on the cover of Forbes magazine.

But three years after its launch, my business today employs a team of 22 people and our revenues surpassed $1 million during our second year of existence.

Which makes it more successful than 98% (?) of businesses created that same fateful autumn in 2012.

In the wake of the publication of your guide, “Launch a start-up in 7 days with $700”, I feel compelled to let you know of my disappointment and would also like to tell you something important:

Stop “glamorizing” start-ups and start talking about real business.

It is not true that just anyone can launch a technology focused business with strong growth potential in one week with only $700 in their pocket.

I should emphasize that I don’t believe you’ve got any malicious intent. I appreciate that your objective is to democratize the launching of businesses and to push aspiring entrepreneurs to make that leap.

But for several years, the “start-up” model that has conquered all of Quebec society, its media and its organizations of financial support has presented an erroneous image of the entrepreneur.

You’re not doing any favours for someone who hopes to start a business by leading them to believe that it’s merely a matter of one week and $700.

The “talent” of the entrepreneur

Moreover, as an entrepreneur, I found the second sentence of your guide particularly disappointing: “…it’s not necessary to have any special talent to launch a tech-oriented start-up in a matter of a few days, and it’s possible to do it without harming your bank account.”

Stop saying that LP Maurice is a guy like any other who just had an idea while he was on vacation in Brazil. And that he wrote his business plan on the bus and that miraculously, overnight, Busbud became the international success it is today.

Try talking instead about the years of work and effort that LP invested in his company. Talk about the lean years he’s known and the 16 20-hour days he’s worked.

This is what LP is: he’s a guy who had the desire and motivation to make the kind of sacrifices that very few people are ready to undertake in order to realize a dream.

As we would say in québécois, he’s a guy who was willing to work 10x as hard as anyone to build something spectacular.

I don’t know if that’s the kind of “talent” you meant, but it’s definitely a prerequisite for becoming a successful entrepreneur. No one just “falls into it” the way Obélix falls into the magic potion.

It is not easy and it certainly isn’t always joyful to launch a business.

Starting a company is an activity that requires complete devotion, body and soul, for several years – not a week.

And that’s what needs to be said to aspiring entrepreneurs:

You’ve got to work incredibly hard for several years. You’re going to experience setbacks, but you’ve got to recover from them.

You’re going to sacrifice hours of your social life and sleep. And you’re going to have to risk your savings and then some.

But at the finish line, the satisfaction of giving birth to a project that inspires you and has led you here is a feeling that can’t be equaled.

Never give up, my friend.

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