- MemberNovember 28, 2019 at 9:24 am
I will go toe-to-toe with anyone about “business knowledge.” That doesn’t mean that I’ll know more about any given topic, but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I will be able hold my own whether they’re a subject matter expert academic or a successful CEO. While that may be extremely gratifying to my skills as a conversationalist, on the complete opposite end of that spectrum I can’t go toe-to-toe with damn near anyone when it comes to annual revenue, customers, money raised, successful exits, or many of the other traditional measures of success in business. Despite my wealth of firsthand experience and the breadth of my “multi-disciplinary knowledge,” if I had to quantify my entrepreneurial success or business acumen using their usual manifestations (i.e. financial statements or the size of my platform), then I would be hard pressed to state my case in a positive light. From the outside looking in, it would be easy to dismiss my “knowledge” as mere talk. Hot air. Empty words. To be honest, that’s been the source of a bit of an existential crisis at times (enough so that it prompted me to write this article). And while no one could fault me for lack of effort, ingenuity, grit or ambition, I have been counseled to “get a real job!” more than once. If you’ve found your way to this article then maybe that is an experience you can relate to as well. I like to say that I have delusional confidence – things do not have to be going my way in order for me to feel confident about my abilities or self-worth. I firmly believe that failure is just as important to the process as success. Together they form yet another aspect to the Yin and Yang of life. And while that mentality may give me a respectable suit of armor to wear in the face of concern from friends and family (not to mention from myself), at what point might that attitude cause me to miss the proverbial writing on the wall and become what Sonny so aptly labeled “wasted talent”? I know I’ve had to ask myself that question before. Maybe you have too. If you’re browsing /r/entrepreneur then there’s a good chance that it’s not because your business is thriving and you need a reprieve from crushing the game. That’s a pretty broad and somewhat unfavorable generalization, but it is what it is and I’ll stand by it. Don’t worry though, I’m not about to turn this into a motivational speaker’s call to action and tell you to go out there and take demonstrable, non-busy-work action towards your goals (because you already know that :p). What I’d like to impart is some knowledge about the game that I’ve picked up over the ~6 years I’ve been wearing my entrepreneurial heart on my sleeve. Unfortunately, as my preamble suggests, this advice isn’t coming from a “winner.” I’m just another player, like you, so take it for what it’s worth… but I’m standing on the shoulder of giants here. There’s a quote from Bill Gates that I’ve come to appreciate more and more over the years. He said that “most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” If you’re into entrepreneurial lore then this probably isn’t news to you, but my goal here is to bring that esoteric advice down to Earth. Right around this time last year I had a startup that was on the verge of being bought out after a 2-year, mostly self-funded battle to keep the dream alive. It was my second real attempt at a start up (aka “all-in”), and I applied every one of the lessons I’d learned from the failures of my first venture. Nevertheless, I was still defrauded by manufacturers, over charged by suppliers, bullied by payment processors, denied legal protections from the USPTO… if something could have gone wrong it did, and yet I persevered all the way to the negotiation table by overcoming each of those issues along the way. As part of the launch I had planned to write an article titled “What Does It Take To Be Successful? Let Me Tell You What It’s Taken Me To Get Started.” It was going to be part content marketing, since it would have been about the business, but also part motivational battle cry to struggling entrepreneurs everywhere. I wanted to write an article that saying the things I would liked to have heard during the not-so-great moments on the road to becoming a fully funded business. Alas, that day never came. I still plan on writing that article (so don’t steal my title!), but it was Providence’s plan for me to learn about investor disputes and how to defend myself from a legal shakedown instead (yet another topic I can now confidently discuss!). I’ve remained purposely vague on the details because I didn’t want this to turn into a discussion about what I could have or should have done, or how it Is all my fault and that I’m just blaming others for my failures. All of that, while true to some degree or another, is besides the point. My start up’s product was cool. I had a great proof of concept. I’d demonstrated a market “need,” I had a pretty good idea how to market and distribute it, a clear path to profitability – all the things investors are looking for. What’s interesting though, and what stood out to me during that whole process, was that they were much less interested in that stuff because I probably wouldn’t have gotten in front of them without that level of polish to begin with. What really piqued their interest was my story. Whenever I found myself in front of an investor their faces would light up when I’d talk about the adversities I’d overcome. They loved hearing about the struggle. Heads would nod emphatically as I talked about the lessons learned from overcoming obstacles and how I would (try) to apply them going forward. From there our discussion would almost always turns to their own war stories of being defrauded, missing opportunities, making the wrong judgement calls – on and on about failure. They didn’t ultimately invest (otherwise you’d be reading the first article!), but I always got the nod of approval and added someone potentially important to my network. Hopefully it’s like Bill was saying – we might not connect this year, but maybe at some point in the next ten years our paths will cross again. They always say that investors invest in the team, so how does the team become worthy of investment?! Experience. More specifically, I’d say it’s the experience gained from the experiences you’re probably doing everything in your power to avoid (as you should). Don’t get me wrong – the more money you want to raise the more that experience has to include success, but you cannot show grit without overcoming adversity. You cannot demonstrate impressive problem solving abilities without having solved some seemingly insurmountable problems. You’ll be hard pressed to prove that you’re in it for the next x-years without having already toiled through the ups and downs of business for some fraction of that time. Why would a customer give you their money if they were concerned about whether or not you’ll be around to offer support after the sale? How can an investor feel that their investment is safe unless the team is has proven themselves? How can the team believe in its leader without that leader having been battle tested? How can you feel confident in taking on more than you’ve ever taken on before without being able to look upon your scars from surviving past battles with pride? If your business isn’t going the way you want it to, or even more generally if your life isn’t going the way you want it to (and they’re often intimately related, amirite?!), then hopefully this article can inspire you to work on gaining some of my “delusional” confidence. The shit moments pay for the successes later on, so long as you accept that to be true and own it. It doesn’t happen by accident or if you keep passing the buck. It takes extreme accountability and a growth mindset. Another great quote is from the poet laureate Homer J. Simpson, who said to his son, Bart, “Son, never try. It’s the first step to failure.” That quote is so powerful it might as well be the guiding principle in most people’s lives. Take a moment right now on this Day of Thanks to congratulate yourself and be grateful for the fact that you put yourself in a position to enjoy your failures, because that means you’ve already taken the hardest step of all – you took a chance. Succeeding is easy. Hell, taking a failure on the chin really isn’t all that bad either because you knew it was always a risk, right? But taking a chance?! Man. That’s tough. Putting yourself out there is the precursor to everything in life, so don’t let anything stop you from being willing to take chances. I’m sure some of the wordsmiths out there cringed at my use of the word “esoteric” for Bill’s advice because it seems so general, but there’s a difference between understanding and Understanding what he said. Capital “U” Understanding takes experience. It takes time in service and surviving the ups and downs of the path less traveled. The seed you planted 10 years ago won’t ever turn into a tree if you didn’t plan it in the first place! A great follow-up to that quote is the Chinese proverb which says that the best time to plant a tree was 20-years ago, but the second best time is today. So! Keep putting yourself out there and rejoice at the lessons you’re gaining from your most recent failure or your current state of stagnation. It’s going to be hard to make it from wherever you’re at now to wherever you’re trying to go – open up any book from the ancient world and you’ll see that that’s just the way it is. Be accountable for your failures and accept them as the price paid for the lessons you’ve learned along the way. Pay that price gladly. Be thankful for the allowing yourself to take the road less traveled. The confidence you gain from this mentality is not actually delusional if you’re being honest with yourself, it’s the only true kind of confidence there is (at least that’s what I tell myself!). You might have to get a “real job” one day, and we all know that means it’ll be the kind of “real job” that makes pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams next to impossible. My advice? Take the job, save more money/motivation than you can now, and get back out there to try again! You’ve got this. Happy Thanksgiving! – by /hq/yrocaz – –
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