Do What It Takes to Survive: An Honest Story About Running Startups

Aaron Dinin, PhD
3 min readMar 24, 2020

While speaking on an entrepreneurship panel with three other founders of venture-backed startups, the panel’s moderator asked each of us to describe our most memorable moment as a CEO.

The first person talked about the day he got his first term sheet. He described how he was on his sixth startup, with the other five having failed. He was struggling to pay rent each month, his parents were pushing him to get a “real job,” and even his co-founders seemed ready to throw in the towel. For him, his first term sheet was a moment of validation. All the hard work and sacrifice was finally paying off.

The second entrepreneur on the panel described the day she signed her first six-figure enterprise contract. It was with a Fortune 500 retailer nobody thought she could land. She talked about how it gave her the resources to hire the developers she needed and how it gave her the confidence to believe in herself and her ability to build and run a startup. After she’d finished her story, she received a loud round of applause.

The third person talked about the day his daughter was born. He told the audience how it put all of his “profession” as an entrepreneur into perspective. It helped him learn to prioritize what mattered in his life, create a better work-life balance for himself, and foster a better work-life balance for his employees that ultimately helped his company grow faster. His story was followed by audible “awws.” Nothing beats a story about cute babies and being a good parent.

Then it was my turn. I could have discussed moments similar to what the other three people shared: my first funding; my first big customer; my first child being born. Heck, if I’d gone earlier, I probably would have talked about one of those things. But, since those topics had already been covered, I felt like I had to share something different. I went with the first story about being a startup CEO that popped into my mind since, by definition, that seemed the most memorable. Here’s the story I told:

In the summers, we usually hire a batch of interns. For reasons I can’t entirely remember, one summer we hired a larger group of interns than usual. We

Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @