[hopefully the video will also be put up soon]
I am 37 years old and this month marks the first time in my adult life that I had to call up my landlord and tell him I couldn't pay my rent on time. I'm not telling you this for pity and it isn't a rags to riches story. I am doing what I love. I am more alive than I've ever felt. And though I'm more broke than I've ever been, I'm also happier.
Hello, my name is Tara and I am a startup entrepreneur...
Let me tell you...that it takes HERCULIAN levels of strength to hold the faith day after day as you travel down an unclear path.
Imagine this. You are an entrepreneur standing in front of a group of important people, people who hold the power to change your future - venture capitalists, media, potential employees, and YOU - and you pour your heart out to them. You present your vision in the best way you know how to articulate it. Your palms are sweating. Your heart is beating out of your chest. You are so excited and filled with passion and you just know they are going to recognize it. They will understand your vision and want to be part of it. They will want to help you get there.
But then you start noticing them checking their blackberries and looking bored...their furrowed brows...and you know what is coming. They proceed to tell you every way in which your business will fail. It's been done before, so it will fail. It's never been done before so it will fail. There are too many competitors, so it will fail. You come into those meetings with your heart on your sleeve and the reach across the table, grab your heart, put it in their teeth and take a big, juicy bite out of it, hand it back to you and say, "good luck with that."
And you leave those meetings with two things. Number one, a broken, bleeding heart and number two, a burning desire to prove to them just how wrong they are. And you hold onto that second thing, imagining yourself handing them their hats on a silver platter when they come to you to beg to be part of your success some day.
But those meetings are the easy ones. At least you know exactly where you stand when you leave them.
The worst meetings go something like this...once again, you are presenting your vision with passion and this time, the reception is different. You see a sparkle in their eyes. They are nodding their heads. They start to ask you deeper questions about your marketing strategy and technology and you answer these questions like a pro. You know your business. You know your market. They tell you they want to follow up! You leave those meetings in a very different mood. You are giddy. You practically skip back to your office.
You get back to your office all fired up and send that follow up email, "great to meet with you! Here are those things you asked for!" finally! Someone who gets it! You want to celebrate! Your business is going to move forward!
Then a couple of days pass....nothing. Days turn to weeks....still nothing. Your spidey senses start tingling...well...maybe they got busy? Perhaps a family emergency? Maybe an illness?
So you send a follow up email, "hey! Just following up to see if you need anything else from me! If you have any questions, just ask!"
And then comes the reply. It's vague and flat and sounds nothing like the previous meeting. It goes something like this:
"Tara, thank you for coming in and showing us what you are working on. We really enjoyed meeting the team and though we like your idea, we are just going to pass on it right now. Keep in touch!"
Huh? This is the point that you take a drink. Tequila has become my personal favorite. Take a pass? What? What happened? Where is the love?
It's as if everyone you meet with is directly or indirectly telling you that you are chasing a pipedream....that you should just give up.
Give up? Never. Isn't this what a startup is about? Building something with unknown results? It's never certain. We have a great team, a product that is well on it's way, a vision, a community of users, connections, an exciting roadmap....and we believe. All we need are the resources to get us there and one person to provide that so others follow....you are breaking my heart!
But you won't break my spirit.
Entrepreneurs have an unbreakable spirit. We have to. Because we only have two choices: chasing the dream, this unclear path or going stark raving mad. Yes, building a product and raising money is difficult, but spending the rest of your life being haunted by "what if" would be much harder.
There has been a lot of talk recently about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
I won't put any parameters around what is and isn't an entrepreneur other than to say that you have to be "all in". So, if you are building projects on the side, that is awesome and creative, but it doesn't make you an entrepreneur. And I was a consultant for many years and thought I was an entrepreneur, but I know now that was better defined as self-employed. When you are all in, you spend every minute of every day focused on how to survive and make your business successful because you have to. Whatever it takes to succeed, you get really creative in finding it.
You go to bed every night and dream about finding it and you wake up every morning and start planning how to find it. Every morning I wake up and think, "what are all of the things I didn't do yesterday to make it happen that I can do today?" and over my morning coffee, I start to make a list of all of these things and that list includes things like "sell everything I own and live in a cardboard box." Until you put that on your list, you aren't all in.
I don't believe that entrepreneurs can be made. It's not something that can be learned. Sure, you can learn how to run a business. You can learn sales. You can learn operations and coding and everything that goes on behind the scenes. But what you cannot learn are those fundamental and innate characteristics that prepare you for the roller coaster of the unclear path.
1. Delusion 2. Desire to change the status quo (...that dream...that big idea); and 3. Sheer and utter audacity
And it isn't enough to have just one or two of these characteristics, you a need all three of them to prepare you for what you will face as an entrepreneur. Let me explain...
Delusion is my personal favorite. I come by this particular trait very naturally. In fact, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a pirate when I grew up. Of course I had a fallback plan...if that didn't pan out, I could be a princess, but it wasn't my first choice. I had no idea what swashbuckling entailed, but it sounded like a hella good thing to do day in and out. So while all of the other kids were dreaming of being doctors and engineers and lawyers, I was sporting puffy shirts and singing, "yo ho a pirates life for me!" Thankfully, I eventually found the web and entrepreneurship and found a whole new outlet for my swashbuckling.
As you can imagine, it was interesting to be my parents. Perhaps other entrepreneurial types in the audience had a similar relationship with theirs. Even though they were trying to encourage me to do what I wanted to do, I could never quite escape their concerned looks.
My parents and I are wired very differently. Though we share many of the same characteristics, fundamentally we want very different things out of life. This has always been tough because it meant we didn't quite connect. And being raised in a small town and in a family who saw the world different than I did meant that I always felt alone...like an outcast...like there was something "wrong with me."
Eventually I grew up, left that small town and went far way to discover that there wasn't anything wrong with me at all. In fact, I started to meet hundreds...and eventually thousands...of people who had all sorts of different perspectives on the world. And when I discovered this, I started to feel comfortable in my own skin and I began to soar. Really soar.
Still, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't wonder, "What the hell am I doing?" and those voices enter my head, the ones that say, "well, Tara has never chosen the easy road." but the truth is, this isn't about an easy road or making it hard for myself. My goals in life have never been to be comfortable. My goals are very different...to explore, to question, to live, to learn, to grow and...ultimately, to make a positive impact in the world. And that requires taking risks and leaps and making mistakes and taking the unclear path.
What appears to some as instability is merely me getting back on that path. If I wanted the mortgage and the nice husband and kids and 9to5 job and the RRSPs and everything else that comes from having that "ideal life", I would have it by now. But that's not MY ideal life.
I choose to follow this unclear path and throw my life into uncertainty, not because I'm a masochistic, but because I'm pursuing a dream. I don't like being late on my rent but it doesn't make me feel like a big loser or a failure, I know that I'm making the sacrifices I need to in the near term...I can feel it in my gut. Every day, I'm so excited about the future that my heart beats out of my ears and I wake up every day with an exhilarating panic that there aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish what I need to to get there.
And where is this road taking me? Well, that's the craziest part of all...I'm not entirely sure.
However, I was heartened to learn recently that this is a keystone of being an entrepreneur. A study on a swath of successful entrepreneurs in INC Magazine found that, though we have lofty goals, like luggage, these goals may "shift during flight." it stands to reason that unpredictable outcomes are bound to happen as one pioneers uncharted waters. Instead of nailing down a clear goal and barreling towards it, entrepreneurs ask questions that lead them towards answers.
Did Twitter understand the impact 140 characters would have on the world? Did they foresee the way it would be used in revolutions? How about Zynga the company behind games like Farmville? Could have they predicted their average user would be a 43 year old woman? And Facebook? In their wildest dreams, could they understand the level of activity they would enjoy worldwide today? Sure, the entrepreneurs behind these companies had an inkling...a big idea and a dream of where they could be...but in their wildest dreams, they couldn't predict the outcome. Lucky for all of us, they had enough delusion to follow their crazy dreams and lucky for them, they had delusional people with money to support them towards their outcomes.
Which brings me to audacity. That ability to risk it all. The arrogance of believing in something so strongly that you will drive all of the people around you completely bonkers. It's no secret that I am single...and not for lack of trying. But the truth is that I probably couldn't BE in a relationship right now. My company is way less of a Venture Capital investment risk than Tara Hunt is a boyfriend investment risk. I'm obsessed with building my business 24/7. I walk around a ticking time bomb stress ball 99% of the time. My highs are hysterical and my lows? You don't want to know. This is the type of roller coaster that I shouldn't be involving anyone to join me on emotionally. Even my dog feels the fallout. And I'm lucky because my son moved out of the nest last summer and doesn't see this daily.
But audacity wasn't only essential to getting ON this roller coaster, it is also essential for being able to STAY on it. The difficultness, the arrogance, the impudence - that's key to the drive to keep going. It's behind the perseverance. It's that thing that helps me get back up after being rejected over and over and over and over again, brush myself off and keep on keeping on.
You know that saying about hearing 99 no's before you get to a yes? Well that ratio is pretty much accurate. Even the most brilliant, charming types that could sell a fur coat to a bear experience the same ratios. They just have amazing audacity.
At the end of the day, entrepreneurs choose an unclear path not sanctioned by mainstream society. We need to be delusional, audacious people with big dreams just to carve out a life in a world we don't "fit". Luckily, we have plenty of folk heroes to look up to and say, "look at her! She was rejected and faced all sorts of opposition, but she proved them wrong and look where she is now! That's going to be me someday!"
And even if we don't get there it's that path...the journey that is the best part of all. We can be knocked down and kicked a hundred times, but we get back up and try again until we succeed. Because no matter what, the unclear path is the only one we can gr0k. So, to my fellow entrepreneurs -the successful, the unsuccessful and those on the journey - I salute you. Thank you for being delusional, audacious dreamers and continuing to inspire me.
And in the words of the Apple Think Different campaign (join me please):
"Here is to the crazy ones. The misfits. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do."