Killing the Entrepreneur


This weekend I’ve been pondering the joy of mentoring. While not an “official” mentor, I’ve always made myself available to young entrepreneurs who want to learn. There are few young men in my circle of influence that I’ve had the opportunity to mentor unofficially.

They think they’re getting the benefit of the mentoring. Well let me tell you that is not true. I receive more from speaking with them than I believe they realize. Their passion, inquisitiveness, innovative culture and fresh view of life is a true blessing to me personally.

In my early years of trying to transition from a trumpet player to a businessman, there were two or three people who mentored me in business and spiritual matters that made huge emotional deposits for which I’ll be forever grateful. People like William C. Turner, who served on 30 of the Fortune 100 boards in his lifetime. Lou Falcigno, who controlled heavy weight boxing in New York and New Jersey that invented closed-circuit television (the “Thrilla in Manila”), as well as pay-per-view television. Pastor Tommy Barnett, my pastor at Phoenix First Assembly of God Church in Phoenix. Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International (CRU). And then there were the marriage counselors that my wife and I literally wore out over our 33 years of marriage. I could go on and on with people that have made those important deposits in my life. We all need to do that for other people.

Recently, I’ve been pondering what makes entrepreneurs successful. Today, I came across a quote of Steve Jobs:

Some of the young men I have been mentoring have referred to themselves as“Serial Entrepreneurs.” They are innovative business people who love to entrepreneur.

What I have noticed, however, is the dynamic tension required as an entrepreneur to stay laser-focused on your corporate mission.

Passion + Focus = Success!

…but the dynamic tension takes place when an entrepreneur constantly reevaluates the path to success.

Some of my young friends mistake the exciting title of “Serial Entrepreneur” to mean they jump from project to project. I have seen them start a project or company, begin to get some traction and then run off to the next shiny new thing.

My experience in addressing this issue with them comes from personal pain. I love to check out The Next Big Thing. It’s much easier to jump from the daily grind and struggle of taking my “A-to-Z” vision through the painful “B-to-Y” process. A very successful female entrepreneur partner of mine blurted out to me recently, “Michael you get the easy ‘A to Z’ which are only two letters of the alphabet…I have to deal operationally with the painful ‘B to Y’ which is the other 24 letters!” Boy was she correct.

So I counsel young entrepreneurs to stay laser-focused on what’s working…to overcome the day-to-day hurdles…to do their best not to chase The Next Big Thing but to make a real business out of their original vision.

But it is also critical to know when to “move on” to The Next Big Thing. For those of us old enough to remember the hit song by Kenny Rogers with the terrific lyrics, “Know when to hold them, know when to fold them…” that is the axiom of true entrepreneuring.

Observing the most successful venture capitalists confirms this concept. They will be quick to say that only 1 out of 20 of their investments actually returns an investment for all 20. The good ones become experts at a phrase they call “doubling down.” They are like miners for gold. When they find a vein that is working, they “double down.” They become more and more focused on the entrepreneurs that are beginning to discover the gold nuggets in the businesses. While some are too quick to jettison those that are struggling, these successful venture capitalists have figured out this dynamic tension.

As Jobs stated I do believe perseverance is probably the largest part of the entrepreneur’s success. This requires what Ben Horowitz so wonderfully articulates in his terrific business book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It goes something like this:

“Life is a struggle” – Karl Marx

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.

The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

The Struggle is when your employees think you’re a lion and you think they may be right.

The Struggle is when food loses its taste.

The Struggle is when you don’t believe you should be CEO of your company. The Struggle is when you know that you are in over your head and you know that you cannot be replaced. The Struggle is when everybody thinks you are an idiot, but nobody will fire you. The Struggle is where self-doubt becomes self-hatred.

The Struggle is when you are having a conversation with someone and you can’t hear a word they are saying because all you can hear is The Struggle.

The Struggle is when you want the pain to stop. The Struggle is unhappiness.

The Struggle is when you go on vacation to feel better and you feel worse.

The Struggle is when you are surrounded by people and you are all alone. The Struggle has no mercy.

The Struggle is the land of broken promises and crushed dreams. The Struggle is a cold sweat. The Struggle is where you’re gut boils so much that you feel like you’re going to spit blood.

The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure. Especially if you are weak. Always if you are weak.

Most people are not strong enough.

Every great entrepreneur from Steven Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through The Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. That is why it is called The Struggle.

The Struggle is where greatness comes from.

– Ben Horowitz

So in the weeks, months and years ahead, I will continue to bring this notion of the dynamic tension of entrepreneuring to the forefront of the thinking of anyone who allows me the privilege to advise them on their journey of entrepreneuring!

2 responses on “Killing the Entrepreneur

  1. WilliamOr says:

    Thanks a lot for the post.Really thank you! Fantastic. Brog

  2. The indebted welfare state should be trying to make doing business easier and simpler. It must. It needs the revenue engendered by the success of the entrepreneur and the creative small businessman. Regulations need to be reined in with common sense. A reasonable degree of freedom is the essential ingredient of \”free\” enterprise. Overregulation is ultimately the death knell of freedom, ergo the death of the entrepreneur.

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