Starting a Business? Here’s How to Fail
My wife and I went to the movies last night and grabbed a bite to eat afterward. It was late. The dining room was closed, so we were sitting at a high-top in the barroom waiting for our food.I was not having coffee.
As always, we were gazing into one another’s eyes as I lovingly grumbled about the current direction of our society, and she breathily recited a list of what’s wrong with the adoption of the Common Core standard in our daughter’s school.
It was romantic.
Next to us was another couple – a man and a woman, though I don’t believe they were on a date. After awhile, our food came and as we ate, I began to listen in on their their conversation. It wasn’t too hard to pick up – the place was trying to close, and we were the last two tables.
This is what I heard:
“So did I tell tell you, I want to start a business!”
“Really? What kind?”
“Well, first I need backers, of course. I need a guaranteed salary – a good one – for 12, no maybe 24 months to get it off the ground. I have to be comfortable to really focus on the business. “
“Oh. What’s it about?”
“I’ve got it all figured out. I’m gonna use blogging and social to build my personal brand – so people know my name. The right people. Not just around here but, you know, nationally – maybe internationally.”
“Oh it is. I want to get my name out there – I’ll need, to – I’ll have employees, of course – but once we find projects, and get the right clients, well, then I’ll be making plenty of money – more like I deserve, y’know?”
(I think there was a nod there.)
“It should be great – I just need some investors. Once I get going, I won’t need them for long. I’ll have plenty of money, then maybe travel, too. I need exposure. I’ve been thinking maybe PR people, too.”
“Do you have – what is it, clients? Projects – lined up right now?”
“Well, no…not yet but I just need to find the right investors. I can’t do this unless I have what I need to live on – I won’t be able to focus until that’s settled. I can’t wait!”
And there you have it. This is it, in a nutshell. Quite frankly, I have no idea what this guy does. Clearly, his companion didn’t have a clue either. Interior designer? Personal trainer? Hand model?
Doesn’t make a difference, not really. Today, fame for fame’s sake is this strange thing to which far too many people aspire. This guy’s one of ‘em.
I’ve known – and still know – my share of ‘famous people’.
Most real famous people don’t like being famous. I don’t think I’d like being famous, either. But if I were to be famous, I like to think it would be because I’d done something worthy of fame – cure a disease, make a difference.
Something where fame was just a by-product of something far larger and more important. A residual piece of the tangible impact I’d had.
Instead, we live in a culture that equates fame – even notoriety – with success. Kardashians. Rehab stars. That single teenage mother from tv who’s now a porn star. All glowingly successful.
But really, that’s not why this fellow is destined to fail – provided he even gets off the ground.
The reason he’s going to fail is simple: he’s not passionate about the thing, just the perceived rewards he’s anticipating. The fame. The money.
You see, if this guy was serious – and had a serious shot at success as an entrepreneur, he’d be talking about what he did – whatever the heck that was. He’d be immersed in it, he’d be talking only about that one thing that he does – not the trappings and periphery.
He’d be into it. He’d be conveying his passion. He’d be in love with it, driven by it. His words would run non-stop, and his ideas would be flowing even as he spoke. He’d be excited about the thing, in and of itself.
And if I was listening, I’d be excited about it too.
And that excitement is contagious. To lots of people. And they’d be talking about him, and what he did, because passion works.
Too many people are caught up in the concept of the startup culture these days. It’s great, and it’s exciting – even intoxicating. But too much of it is window dressing.
Having gone through the Walkabout in NY last week, and made a bunch of new connections in the startup and media industries, it was quickly apparent to me which few would be around long term. Which ones were into the product, and which ones were into the scene. The scary thing for me was, overall, I got a creeping sense of nostalgic, dot-com-boom-bust dread.
If you’re going to do anything, be into it. Love it. Be prepared to sacrifice for it because you love it, because that way you won’t feel the sacrifice. And don’t expect someone to fund you, unless you have something worth funding. Something tangible, and of value.
And if you don’t love it, go find something you do love. It’s out there – look for it. Otherwise, you’re wasting your life.
That guy last night? I still don’t know what he does.
And I don’t think anyone ever will.