What Will You Give Up For Your Startup?

I gave up rock climbing so that Distil could close it’s Series A round. Not in the sense of “I don’t have time to do this anymore”. Full blown, cold turkey, hang up my rock shoes and never climb again if I wanted Distil to succeed.

I started rock climbing in university (see Rock Climbing for Introverts). It was a pretty big part of my life through my first job at Nortel and into the founding of Distil. I would go out every weekend when the weather was nice to the local crags. I would visit the climbing gym 2-3 times per week. Compete in local competitions. Plan vacations around climbing destinations. Being a rock climber was one of the axes I defined myself on.

So now we are closing our Series A round at Distil. We are past the negotiations, the valuation, the terms and conditions. Everything is signed and we are working through the post close conditions. These are the items that were asked for as part of close but require a reasonable amount of time to satisfy. All are routine.

One of these items is that we get key man insurance for myself, our CEO Jonathan, and my co-founder Steve. For those unfamiliar with the term, key man insurance is life insurance that is payable to the company. If I get hit by a bus the company will need to find a new technical leader. This will take time and money. To mitigate that risk, the company takes out a life insurance policy on me.

Now I’m not an insurance expert. This was explained to me as being standard and straightforward. But since the insurance will be paid to the company (instead of my family as is the case in personal insurance) the insurance carrier puts a bit more scrutiny on the application.

For one, the questionnaire was much longer and more detailed than any insurance questionnaire I’ve ever filled in before. And they want to know about my hobbies, specifically things like Sky Diving, Scuba Diving, Rock Climbing, etc…

I’m an honest guy. I’m not going to lie on an insurance application. If I fall to my death climbing El Capitan, I want my insurance policy to pay up. So I checked that I do rock climbing. More questions — how often, how high, do I use equipment? I dutifully provide the answers.

Then the insurance agent called. There were problems with my insurance application. Rock climbing was considered too dangerous for key man insurance. If I were to stop rock climbing, then maybe…. Discussions among management ensue. This was the last item to clear before the money was ours. The question was put to me — would I consider giving up rock climbing?

I was feeling hurt and confused. We had a team of 10. Without this investment round we would have to shut the doors. How could I tell our team who had worked hard for 2 years that the dream was over because I selfishly wanted to continue an outside passion? But why should I give up something I loved when no one else was being asked for a similar sacrifice? Steve wasn’t being asked to stop smoking because he might get lung cancer?

Were there other options? There were but all involved significantly higher premiums (and being a startup this would eat into our runway). Or they would involve shopping around for a carrier that would insure me, which would take more time. The clock was ticking. We were running out of time to complete the post close items.

So I caved. I took one for the team. I said I would give up rock climbing. I meant it. And I haven’t climbed since.

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15 Responses to What Will You Give Up For Your Startup?

  1. Mark Entingh says:

    I gave up my life… was homeless a few times, gave up friendships, family, my belongings… all so I could build http://www.rennder.com over these past 5 years.

    • Manuel says:

      Some honest feedback for you in order of impression:
      – Hmm i’m dragging items and its not working. Oh I have to click Try Now (strike 1)
      – Wow!!
      – Hmm the new menu covers my elements, i was clicking and nothing was appearing. ahh its under there (strike 2)
      – Hmm this seems overly complex, I wonder if I can drag and drop images into it from my desktop. no. (strike 3) closed the window

      well it’s got potential but I can’t see customers using this or paying for this when a software solution would help you get around the restrictions of doing it in a browser.

      but tidy those things up and with that on your portfolio i’m sure any hot new startup would employ you for great money. Good luck!

  2. Jason says:

    You should have used your situation to make Steve quit smoking.
    He may hate you a little for a while, but you’ll make his life better in the end.

  3. Christian says:

    Amazing story, glad your round closed. A great quote is “Focus is about saying No” (Jobs). I found myself in a similar situation with friendships and activities. Vision gives pain a purpose.

    -C

  4. domer says:

    Axis?

    Or pun?

  5. James says:

    That’s a shame you gave up something that brought you true happiness, for what, a startup and some product? Life is too short.

  6. Sethu says:

    It will all be good as long as you are successful. But if after couple of years you are not making that much progress and you have a strategic difference of opinion with other founders etc. and in that stressful conditions as no one thinks very clearly and you are somehow forced out of your company or you voluntarily leave taking an emotional decision etc. etc. etc. – then this decision to give up something you loved a lot will continue to haunt you for rest of your life. Take it from me and hope that you succeed big or at least hope that when you part ways with your founders it is all peace.

    • kentonwhite says:

      Nice perspective. This is all many years ago so water under the bridge. Since then I now have a wonderful family and have many activities with them I enjoy doing just as much or more.

      Kenton White

  7. Nathan B says:

    Wow, sorry to hear that. That’s really tough.
    Good on you for making the hard decision.

  8. danzaland says:

    I guess once this venture becomes COMPLETELY successful and you move onto your next one, that next one should be a rock climbing insurance company…. Good luck.

  9. Hetaswi says:

    I follow HackerNewYC on twitter and they had shared a link for your post ‘Software is People’. That’s how I came know about your blog. I found the article so gripping that I ended up reading all the articles on your blog. Truly enjoyed reading each post. All the best for your ventures. Keep us posted. 🙂

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