Common Themes in the Despair of Entrepreneurial Success

I hated reading growing up. I read the cliff notes on everything just get to through class assignments, and don’t think I can safely say I ever enjoyed a single book for pleasure. When I started my first company (a digital design creative agency called SureFive), had literally no idea what I was doing. I barely read an economics book in college, and no one ever told me there was a handbook for starting a company (hint: there isn’t). I just did it. Me and my business partner went on to start FlyrOnline, which despite it’s moderate success in the aviation industry, wasn’t enough. I starting thinking to myself “why don’t I get this?”

So then I started reading – for pleasure.

I started reading something I genuinely have become very passionate about – entrepreneurism, business building, ya know…what’s considered “cool” now. Books like The Lean Startup, Personal MBA, Nudge, and Thinking, Fast and Slow.

As I read more and more about people who have “made it”, I realized I wasn’t alone on my journey. Several themes started matriculating, and here’s a short breakdown of the one’s that have stuck in my head.

The Crash – At some point everyone crashes. People burn out. For a growing organization, this is often called the pit of despair. Steve Jobs got fired from Apple at one point. Think about that for a second.

Engineering – There is no handbook, guidebook, or cookbook to starting a company. You can get all of the advice you want. You can read this post and get inspired. You can get an MBA. But none of this matters, because there is no single anecdotal, formulaic way to build a business. There’s a common theme in the startup world and it goes something like this: “I have no idea what I’m doing” 

Overnight success – These don’t exist. Literally. Do. Not. Exist. Did I mention they don’t exist?

Almost nothing scales except Facebook – There is a word in the english language called “exception”. Every company that reaches scale, eventually hits exceptions. CRM app doesn’t allow contacts to be imported via Outlook? That’s an exception. As soon as exceptions hit your business, things tend to get really complicated. A company that can continue to smoothly grow in spite of increasing exceptions is the only one that can truly scale.

Spam – At some point every company will resort to spam. Why? It works. Spam isn’t evil. It just sucks to be on the receiving end of it.

Customer acquisition trumps everything – Peter Drucker is quoted with saying “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” What a brilliant way to express something so inherently complex in such so few words.

Fear – Fear is everywhere. Fear and risk are the two greatest combatants to success. Seth Godin calls this the “lizard brain”.

Blind ambition – Ever heard of Hamdi Ulukaya? He’s a Turkish Kurd who moved to the US with $3,000 and started Chobani. It’s now America’s largest yogurt company. This is blind ambition, and I wish I had more of it.

People matter, we don’t know how to rate people – Hiring sucks. Finding a co-founder sucks. There is only one solution to find out if someone is right for your business – just start working with them.

Embarrassment – I’m horribly embarrassed of some of the projects I’ve launched in my life. Every business that became big was at some point an embarrassingly simple project. The only thing that matters is launching. Everyone was a noob at some point.

Love what you do – I’ve struggled with this. Everyone does. I often dream that I could wake up one day and become the son of a rich oil tycoon, reaping the benefits of a quasi-feudalistic world, and then spend my money to create whatever I want. $10,00 triathlon bike, you say? YES PLEASE. You’d soon realize this wouldn’t be any fun. Building something from nothing is the most rewarding thing in the world.

Lastly – us entrepreneurs need a support network. That’s why I’m moving back to the US. I need the support network. It doesn’t exist like it does outside of the US.