Before I dive into this post I want to make a few things clear:
- I am not referring to freelancers or folks in the service business. Frankly, if you are not bootstrapping (at least in the beginning) you are a moron. Grade A Idiot, as my dad used to say. (Not really, I just wish my dad would use cool lines like that, so I could tweet them and get a god damn show. Seriously, what is this world coming to?)
- I am not being “shocking” or “Dave McClure-ian” by using words like: bullshit, fucking, moron or venture capital.
- I am also not speaking specifically about the choice of taking (or not taking) investment in building a business.
What I am talking about is the fucking bullshit beliefs that seem to permeate the Bootstrapping world.
There is no special badge on Foursquare if you have bootstrapped your startup to success. There is no slight you are afforded because you bootstrapped. Venture capital is not evil. You are not good. You havent “beaten the odds.” You arent better, or worse, than other entrepreneurs.
The concept of bootstrapping is solid. To be clear, a bootstrapped business is one that is completely self-funded either by its founders or by the revenue it generates (usually a mix of both) and the expectation is that the growth of the company is usually slower than if the same business had received investment.
Im assuming that because entrepreneurs that have bootstrapped their businesses believe that have undertaken a Herculean effort, their success is somehow more valuable than the entrepreneur that took investment.
“Its all about the exit.” bootstrappers say. ” I would rather than 100% of a small exit, than 10% of a large exit.”
To that, I say, “cool. But, please shut the fuck up about it.”
I know that bootstrapping is hard. I know that there is even an art to it. Ive bootstrapped a business. I built a company on credit cards and had a successful exit. I get the awesome-ness of bootstrapping.
What I dont get is the attitude that mooching is awesome (Im sorry, I mean “free-sourcing”). I dont understand why exploiting young talent (oops, I meant “outsourcing to less experienced freelancers”) rocks. I am mystified how the concept of micromanaged control (damn, I mean “freedom from a board”) somehow ensures success.
Go be that entrepreneur that finances their own success, drives towards profitability quickly, and focuses on lean startup principles to accelerate your business.
Be proud of your ability to build a business with no outside help. Just dont be That Guy. Because those guys are not bootstrappers, they are dicks.
- Bootstrapped, profitable & proud (marsdd.com)
- The Art of Bootstrapping: Funding Startups the hard Way – Part 1 (wolpers.posterous.com)
- Here’s How I Bootstrapped My Company To 25 Employees In 3 Countries In 4 Years (businessinsider.com)
- Five reasons to consider venture capital (jondale.com)
- Optimize for Happiness (Followup to my Startup School talk) (tom.preston-werner.com)
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There is nothing harder in life–nothing–than becoming one with uncertainty.
Oh, we all say that we can handle some uncertainty in our lives. We talk about how we love to “embrace change,” and that new things are what “excite us.”
But, when really pushed, most people are just not okay with I Don’t Know.
Its easy to say that startups are full of uncertainty. The old joke is “There is a reason they call it VENTURE!” (Yeah, I know, I dont know why thats funny either.)
In the big scheme of things, we all are good at understanding uncertainty exists and that we need to deal with it, but we also believe that the uncertainty will be short lived.
We believe that dealing with a bit of “I dont know” today, will lead to a ton of “that’s right” tomorrow.
But thats not how startups work. Just today I watched a short Fox Business interview with Dennis Crowley. Ive know Dennis for a few years, and in all of our interactions there is a very clear “I know where Im going,” in the way he presents himself and his ideas. But, during this interview he was asked about Facebook‘s entry into the location based services space. During his answer, Dennis commented that he didnt know where the location space was going. “We dont know where this is going, but we know that it has to move past the check-in” (Im writing from memory, so Im guessing that I made at least part of that shit up to make it fit this post. Or maybe not. I dont know).
“I dont know” is inherently part of every single day of a startup regardless of its success. And if you want to work at one then start getting comfortable with “I dont know.”
Recently, we had a similar discussion internally. “How are we going to make money?” I was asked. “I dont know,” I replied. “How are we going to grow?” was another question, “I dont know,” I replied. And question after question came, and to most, my answer was “I dont know.”
“You have to be ok with I dont know.” I told the team.
“You just shouldnt ever be comfortable with ‘never,’ and the biggest value you can provide the company is getting us from ‘never’ to ‘yet,’ and finally to ‘We learned.’”
Success, after all, isnt in knowing everything, its in understanding what matters and acting on it. Its in the movement from never knowing to understanding that drives a company forward.
I spend a lot of time talking to business owners. Sometimes, they have startups. Sometimes, they have large businesses. Public companies, small businesses, venture backed companies. Old companies; tech companies. New companies; manufacturing companies. (Am I becoming the Dr. Suess of Startups? Does Horton hear an IPO?)
Are there similar things that run true to these “entrepreneurs,” or all they all different?
Yesterday, I came across an article on Forbes.com that discussed the concept of “Humpty-Dumpty Entreprenuers.”
Dr. Steven Berglas postulates that a true entrepreneur is neither a workaholic or narcissist.
Most [Humpty Dumptys] I encounter think that working 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year is proof of their entrepreneurial spirit. Wrong. Workaholism is a psychological disorder–having entrepreneurial spirit is not.
He goes further to outline that workaholics are focused on working as a “socially sanctioned avoidance of social contact.” Whereas entrepreneurs are:
Motivated by a messianic passion to prove themselves to the world, entrepreneurs work feverishly and for long stretches–but they can turn it off and have fun, too. True entrepreneurs are blessed with a joie de vivre that demands fulfillment through hedonistic pursuits….By contrast, natural entrepreneurs tend to be affable charmers. How else would they lure talented employees with meager salaries and slices of potentially worthless equity?….Entrepreneurs are quality control freaks…
Dr. Berglas continues, by also saying that Humpty Dumptys are narcissists, which by definition cannot be entrepreneurs.
Narcissists are committed to building a facade, while entrepreneurs are devoted to an ideal….Entrepreneurs suffer a unique form of madness, but they are not without humility.
I know many people like the ones that Dr. Berglas describes as Humpty Dumptys. They believe that they can work harder than anyone else, and that effort alone will allow them to succeed. They believe they are the only people who can solve the problem/or build the solution and often they wont listen to anyone else. Yet, they consider themselves an entrepreneur.
My favorite example, is when someone builds a site or starts a business, asks for feedback, and if that feedback is negative, immediate calls me the idiot.
There are many Humpty Dumptys in Boulder. While its no real surprise that there is always one (maybe two) in the Techstars program, it amazes me that there are so many startups (or serial entrepreneurs–another term I hate) that are really just lucky workaholics.
Jessica Mah, a entrepreneur from an early age, hits the nail on the head in her post Why 99% of Entrepreneurs Fail: Because they dont do anything. So many “fake” entrepreneurs have a million ideas, and rarely do they pursue those ideas until completion.
If you are going to own an idea, and want to pursue it, you must take it to the ground.
Its really that simple.
When you complete the process, it might be that the result is not overly positive, but thats ok. 90% of being an entrepreneur is failing.
Jessica is much nicer than I am in calling “fake” entrepreneurs “amateur entrepreneurs,” and she outlines three types:
1) All ideas, no implementation. I often refer to people that love to come up with ideas and solutions, but never implement them “all pomp and no circumstance.” My biggest mistake is often falling into this group. Most people that settle here do so because its easier to come up with ideas and never implement them, rather than come up with ideas and fail.
The problem lays in the fact that most self-proclaimed entrepreneurs are great at dreaming and envisioning their business idea, yet they lack the capability (and even willpower) needed to see it through.
2) Lots of ideas and half assed implementations.
Walk into any Boulder coffee shop, and you will find this class of amateur entrepreneurs. This tends to occur because of a lack of patience. Most people will play with an idea and at the first hint of trouble bail out.
However, they take the “fail fast” mentality way too far — they’ll launch a prototype of their project, put in almost no effort in getting it noticed, then call it a failure. Or even worse, I know of some entrepreneurs who dedicate months of their time working on a startup idea, but never end up launching. If you’re going to fail, at least make people think that you spent your time semi-wisely. Alternatively, type 2 amateur entrepreneurs have multiple ideas that they’re simultaneously working on, and figure that they’ll get rich from at least one of them.
I have worked with entrepreneurs that will present to me 20 or 30 ideas hoping that one grabs my attention. Usually by idea 4, I am just trying to pretend that I am actually awake and engaged.
Have a passion about something and do it. Take it to the ground.
Its that simple.
3) Lots of ideas, lots of implementations, and absolutely no focus.
Most entrepreneurs are awful at running companies. They live in a world of ideas and possibilities rather than operational efficiencies and bottom lines. Most amateur entrepreneurs just dont know when to get out of the way when a company is growing or has outgrown their expertise and skill set.
In addition, similar to the Forbes article, this type of entrepreneur is often not really an entrepreneur to begin with. They love to work and do things. They find creation interesting, but they fail to see the importance of finishing.
Type 3 entrepreneurs are marginally better than type 1 and 2 combined, but they have absolutely no time for anything other than their work. They make a solid attempt to see their business idea through, but get distracted by the idea of another growth opportunity. I feel bad for these people more than anything — they try harder than both type 1 and 2 entrepreneurs, yet they often see just as devastating results.
Both Jessica and Dr. Berglas have interesting takes on the challenges of being an entrepreneur. The concept of entrepreneurship has been romanticized in today’s world. The ideal of coming up with a great idea, and working with cool people blazing your own trail is hard–for Americans awash in capitalistic principles ingrained since birth–to avoid.
But, not everyone can be an entrepreneur. We are not all wired in that way, and most people see only the exciting sides of entrepreneurship (coming up with an idea, raising financing, selling the company for millions) and fail to realize that the truly successful entrepreneurs are the ones that have passion, and take their ideas to the ground.
Its that simple.