Fact: a very high percentage of startups fail. They might run out of money, and they might very well bankrupt their founders in the process. Despite the odds, more people are jumping onto the entrepreneurial bandwagon.
I have seen highly successful people leap into entrepreneurship with the only goal of attaining personal wealth. They lose heart when faced with the inevitable setbacks. The most successful entrepreneurs are not motivated by money. It’s about the experience, the way of life, the chase, the identity, the rush. It is a calling. It's about scratching the itch that just won’t go away. It’s about knowing that this is the work you simply can’t not do.
Success in entrepreneurship can be handsomely rewarded but even if it was not, I would do it anyway. Entrepreneurship is not a job, or a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a journey.
Creating an entirely new category of companies is many founders’ ultimate dream, believing it brings recognition, notoriety and wealth. The common wisdom is, successfully create a brand new category and you’re “set”.
Ignore the common wisdom. Before my co-founders and I created Eloqua in 1999, marketing automation did not exist. It is now a billion-dollar category. That brought me some success and recognition but I certainly wouldn’t consider myself “set.'' I am the definition of a work-in-progress. My success is not a final destination, it is a stepping stone. When entrepreneurs treat their company as the first and last thing they will ever do, they become too attached and make poor decisions.
The business I am leading now is not my first or my last. Instead of clinging to the past, I take what I have learned and apply it to my continued growth. Detachment allows for better decision-making, and a calm, collected approach to new opportunities or threats.
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You can’t manage results or force outcomes. You can, and should, work hard toward a successful outcome for your company. It’s admirable to set lofty goals and work tirelessly to achieve them. What happens if you don’t reach those goals? What happens if you are one of the many startups that fail? I truly believe that focusing on the journey instead of the exit can be a powerful protective factor for entrepreneurs.
Like the ancient Greek athlete Milo who grew stronger by carrying a calf every day as it grew into a bull, focus on becoming a little bit better every day. Better management. Better leadership. Better sales, analysis, interpersonal skills. If the goal is not the payoff but regular progress on the journeyf, it’s a lot easier to withstand the wild gyrations of startup life and to stare down the possibility of failure
There is a reason that many of the most revered entrepreneurs of all time have coaches : they know and embrace that they can’t know it all. This is the concept behind Reid Hoffman’s theory of Permanent Beta. Outlined in his book, The Startup of You, the theory from the founder of LinkedIn revolves around applying an entrepreneurial mindset to one’s life and career. Hoffman suggests that truly great individuals live in a permanent state of growth and development. They are constantly iterating, responding to new experiences, knowledge, and opportunities. These are the type of people who relish the journey instead of racing to the finish line.
If you are singularly focused on the end-game of creating a company, you are bound to miss, or outright ignore, valuable learning opportunities along the way. Pause and take in these precious teachable moments that will turn you into a truly great entrepreneur.
If you do make a lucrative exit and turn toward teaching others, you will still be a work in progress. The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “While we teach, we learn.” By showing others how to build categories, I am still learning more nuances and applying insights to my present category-creation process.
Entrepreneurship is a craft and a vocation. To succeed, you need to treat it that way. Your goal should not be to win, but to master.
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