As I previously noted, last week was a great week with the events I checked out as part of Boston Startup Week. I have had an interest in the subject for some time now, partly as an avid reader of publications like the Boston Business Journal, Harvard Business Review and Inc. (all of which I presently subscribe to) and partly because they are very much a part of the world of technology. It’s also a subject on which my own thinking has come around on quite a bit, which was brought to mind from something that came up in the last event I attended.
The highlights of the week for me were a developer panel held on Wednesday evening, then Becoming an Entrepreneur: Tips to Get Started on Friday. The former was very relevant to my day job, while the latter was terrific on the overall subject. The real highlight to me that presenter Mariah Ramos from MIT Launch talked about was basically a managing of expectations.
Once upon a time, I thought being an entrepreneur was something only a select few people did. I thought it was something for the one percent of people. While I was aware that most businesses fail in the first few years, which means there are many more businesses in existence than just the ones that turn into unicorns, the entire picture didn’t register to me.
Ramos spent time going over myths about being an entrepreneur, and one of those is the idea that you have to be someone like Mark Zuckerberg, Reid Hoffman or Bill Gates to be an entrepreneur. In fact, you don’t, and your business does not have to turn into a Fortune 100 company to succeed, either. It’s so simple, but for a long time it didn’t register to me, and I suspect it doesn’t to many others at first, either. While I’m sure the MIT Launch program does a nice job of this kind of managing of expectations, my sense is getting people to fully realize that doesn’t come quickly or easily.
In large part, it’s because our schooling teaches us to be employees and have the corresponding employee mindset. Helping to rip away at this notion for me has been my own learning on the subject. The Boston Business Journal routinely features local entrepreneurs in its pages, and they are often people who are not household names but have successful businesses. Additionally, one of many podcasts I listen to is Entrepreneur on Fire, where John Lee Dumas interviews numerous entrepreneurs. While repeat guests are certainly part of the program, JLD has thus far had 1800 shows with quick, easily consumed stories of successful entrepreneurial journeys.
Most of those who appear as guests on EOFire are people I had never heard of before, and while most are certainly success stories, JLD doesn’t have on the people who started companies like Google, Microsoft or Raytheon. He isn’t interviewing the biggest names in business. He’s interviewing people who have solved a problem or two successfully.
I’m also reminded of a story I read some time ago that at one point alluded to the rock star status we tend to assign people who start businesses that become unicorns or even a little short of that. The reality is that any successful person – including entrepreneurs – knows they haven’t discovered some secret to life that the rest of us missed out on. They are, in fact, always figuring things out. Life is indeed a constant case of us trying to figure things out; the most successful among us realize that what we are doing is just that.
Part of this is because things change all the time. A great hitter in baseball can’t rest on his laurels, because opposing pitchers will pitch him differently; he has to adjust. A great scorer in basketball will be defended differently all the time; he has to adjust. Rules may change as well. So it also goes with a great business owner – the market will change, from things like new competitors to consumer behavior and much more, and governments could impose new laws and/or regulations that require a business to adapt.
All of this, of course, doesn’t even get into the reality that even the most successful people do not have success-only journeys. Failure along the way is another subject, though, so I won’t belabor that point.
Managing these expectations should go a long way towards more people realizing that entrepreneurship can be for them. To be sure, running a business isn’t for everyone; I have long believed that and still do. Not everyone has the desire or ability to do that, even on a small scale. There is room to believe that and now understand that many of us can do this. There is room to believe that entrepreneurship is something many of us can do, yet not everyone is cut out to do it.
Still, getting people to understand that they don’t have to be an all-time great entrepreneur should take pressure off. It’s like telling someone they can play baseball and not have to be as good as the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton or Mike Trout, or that they can play basketball and not have to be as good as LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry. There is enough pressure in being an athlete or entrepreneur as it is, without putting more of that on ourselves.
I now view this subject differently for myself and others. It certainly helps that I run a company on the side, but I can see myself doing this as my main job it one day, and I don’t mean with the company I currently run turning into a full-time gig. In fact, I think it may be inevitable down the road that I run another company. After this session, I also want to help mentor younger people, likely through what MIT Launch does, and perhaps find other ways to work with them given who their audience is.
It’s also worth noting that even understanding this can help us if we never go down the road of becoming an entrepreneur. Armed with this, we can become more business-savvy, which is basically a necessity for us now. We have to manage our careers more proactively than ever, and that more than anything else makes this a requirement.
I am much more savvy and knowledgeable about business, which helps me stay on top of my current situation whether employed or not; my employment does not happen in a vacuum. This helps me understand if my job could be in jeopardy, or if a change on my part might be a good idea from another standpoint. It also helps me understand my job better. In a similar vein to how Amazon is not really a retailer, but rather, a technology company that sells retail products (among other things), or how Domino’s is not a pizza company, but rather, a technology company that sells pizzas, I am a businessman that delivers value via software engineering. It’s a mindset change that doesn’t change the end product, but it underlies what goes into it.
The presentation on Friday hit on many great things. The part that will stay with me the most is about what is basically managing expectations (Ramos did not use that phrase – it is my summary of it) when it comes to entrepreneurship. It may be the most important thing they do in helping people to go down this road.