A word

The Hardest Part About Being a Founder

Toby Egbuna
March 15, 2021

Every day, I see stories about successful founders who have just raised XX amount of money or hit some crazy growth milestone. I knew going into starting Chezie that those stories aren’t representative of the work that it took those founders to accomplish those goals. Being a founder is hard. I really do think that I had internalized that and mentally prepared myself for the late nights and stress that it would take to build Chezie.

The thing is, the hard work isn’t the most difficult thing about being a founder. It’s the ambiguity.

Some more context

When we launched Chezie, our planned business model was to charge companies a fee to post jobs and manage their company profiles. This is still part of our model, but we’ve realized that diversity recruiting, especially since George Floyd was murdered, is a very crowded space. To separate ourselves as a business, we need to offer something that employers can’t get anywhere else.

That something is a software to help companies establish, manage, and track their DEI efforts. I have a whole spiel about this, but fundamentally, I believe the reason we haven’t seen significant progress in corporate DEI is because companies aren’t tracking it the way they track other business metrics like sales or product development. We’re working on a software solution to help companies do that.

Now, it may sound like we know exactly what we want the solution to do, and that’s correct. Assuming everything goes flawlessly for the next 3-5 years (lol), we have a list of features and tools that we want our software to include. The challenge, and accordingly, the ambiguity, comes from figuring out where to start – what does version 1 of this look like?

Let me share a bit about myself. I am an A/B person. I don’t like grey area and I don’t like not knowing things.

I’m also a planner. Ask my college roommates. Every year since we graduated, we’ve gone on a boy’s trip to a different city. I’m always the one to find the Airbnb, tell people which dates to book flights for, and figure out what we should do once we’re there. It’s at the point where they just tell me to do it all and then Venmo request them once I’m done. I like this responsibility because it gives me a sense of control and confidence that I know what’s going to happen.

If you listen to advice from experts on what not to do when launching a tech company, one of the most commonly named mistakes is taking the “if we build it, then they will come” approach. Basically, founders are told to avoid thinking that they can make whatever product they’ve envisioned and that customers will just flock to them. What experts tell you to do is to speak with the people that have the problem you’re trying to solve, and use that insight to figure out what to build.

Being a planner, this was easy advice for me to follow. I was very hesitant to build a software without first speaking to the DEI and HR professionals that we’re trying to help. So, I did just that. Over the past 9 months, I’ve spoken to over 80 leaders to better understand the challenges that they face when trying to improve DEI at their companies. I have a long list of pain points and I’ve linked those paint points to different types of customers. I thought that once I’d done the research, a ray of sunshine would open from the sky and I would magically know what it is that we need to build.

I was wrong. To my sadness and frustration, there was no ray of sunshine, and worse, I still don’t know what to build. Welp.

That’s the hardest part about being a founder: not knowing what to do. The ambiguity of what product do I build and who should I try to sell to and will anyone even buy this has been the most difficult part of this whole thing. If it was just a matter of finding the time or the resources to make something, that’d be much easier. I’ll gladly work nights and weekends or hire contractors to help us develop the solution and sell it to companies. That’s not the challenge; the challenge is to figure out what solution we can build that will help companies make actual progress on their DEI and what solution companies will pay for.  

How I’m combating the challenge

The ambiguity has been especially difficult for me the last three months. By now, my Co-Founder and sister, Dumebi, just expects weekly FaceTimes from me so I can vent about how I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

Fortunately, based on conversations that I’ve had with some mentors and other Founders, I think I’ve figured out the how to work through the ambiguity:

1. Follow my own advice

Whenever someone asks for advice on how to start a project – a blog, clothing line, tech company, etc. – I always tell them to just go. Obviously, we’re past launch, but we have to keep taking this approach. You can only do so much research and planning; at some point you just have to create something and put it in front of people to see whose problems you’re solving and who’s willing to pay for those problems to be solved.

2. Give things time

After we create an MVP, I want to know if it’s what people want, and I want to know right away.

That’s unfair. We have to show it to different types of customers, gather feedback, make updates, and repeat. I’m constantly finding companies selling robust products with huge feature sets for all types of customers, and I want to be at that point, but I’m reminding myself that getting to that point will take time. In the meantime, I have to be consistent, and most importantly, I have to give it time.

3. Allow myself grace

Dumebi is better than me at a lot of things, but one thing in particular is how she gives herself grace. I can be very hard on myself and on us as a team because we aren’t where I want to us to be. I must allow myself some grace and realize that, even if we haven’t made the progress that I want us to have made, we have come a long way.

Sometimes I meet someone and tell them about Chezie and, to my amazement, they have already heard about it and used it. We launched in June of 2020, so maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised, but it’s really cool and humbling to know that there are people out there that have discovered this thing that we built and like it enough to use it as they navigate their career journeys. That’s something to celebrate.

It’s worth noting that I haven’t gotten to some of the notably difficult parts of being a founder – raising money, building and managing a team, etc. – but it feels like there’s enough documentation and expertise out here that we’ll be able to get through those challenges when they come. Right now, the mountain in front of us is ambiguity, but I wholeheartedly believe that we’ll get over that mountain, and that we’ll do it soon.

Toby Egbuna
Toby Egbuna is a Co-Founder and CEO of Chezie. He is also an aspiring movie buff, an Ed Sheeran stan, and a mediocre cook.

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