Members Helping Members - Educating, Informing, Supporting
Everyone is familiar with a BHAG: A Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It’s a type of strategic business plan that focuses an organization on a shoot for the moon outcome designed, by dint of its desirability, to serve as a catalytic agent to engage the hopes (and energies) of rank-and-file workers. Theoretically, a BHAG helps workers ignore how aggressively they are being pushed to perform by guys in corner offices; an opiate without side effects. At least that’s what James Collins and Jerry Porras claim in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.
Well, I have a BHAG, albeit a modest one: To convince entrepreneurs to forget about BHAGs. Instead, focus on my 7 Steps to Entrepreneurial Success.
My reason for advancing this modest proposal is simple: Entrepreneurs have no need to employ BHAGs as motivational tools. All they need do is show that they are driven, and acolytes hop aboard their startups with visions of IPOs dancing in their heads.
Unfortunately, manifesting entrepreneurial drive or the will to win, is not a given, even for the savviest business builders. The reason why is simple: They forget that they are infinitely more risk-prone with their emotions than they are with their businesses.
Contrary to commonsense thinking, some of the best entrepreneurs are cautious in business; they reject the urge to reinvent the wheel in favor of radically redesigning it. On the other hand, when it comes to putting their egos on the line, many entrepreneurs are downright foolhardy. Forfeiting the emotional safety nets afforded by Big Businesses to win-or-lose, personally, based solely on how well their startups fare, seems like a big deal, but it is not. Entrepreneurs are really at risk when they are sensitive to opinions of others. In conjunction with this view is the entrepreneur’s openness to the mistaken notion that “making it” will make them loved or able to find love.
For all the myriad reasons why entrepreneurs experience pain-and-suffering while struggling to get an enterprise off the ground, your Head Coachis here to provide inoculations to the concerns, most notably, 8 ways to thwart the anxiety, angst, and feelings of aloneness, that kill more entrepreneurs than a lack of funding deficiencies ever has. So, before you launch your startup…
1. Marry a June Bride (or Be One).
Do you know where the concept of a “June Bride” comes from? No; not from the fact that most marriages are held in summer months when the weather promises to be ideal. It’s because back in the day, the moment kids graduated high school they were kicked out of the house. To make the anxiety of this process less threatening, many decided to immediately get married (in June) to make “going off on one’s own” less threatening.
While there are problems aplenty born of marrying someone to secure an emotional support system, it’s not a bad idea to partner-up when starting a business. This is why so many kids pair with BFFs to form startups: Having a buddy in business is as wise as having a buddy when scuba diving— Someone there to save you if you suffer a mishap.
While an entrepreneurial dyad cannot replicate the “safety in numbers” afforded by a corporation, no real entrepreneur would want those sorts of encumbrances anyway. Entrepreneurs are like Goldilocks: They find corporate support structures too hot; soloing, bare-naked and alone, too cold. But having a partner is, often, just right— A nurturer when you need a hug; a co-worker when you need a pair of hands; a brain when you want feedback or a debate.
2. Think Small.
Go to Wall St. and look around. You’ll be shocked at how many of the folks working there are over 6-feet tall. Guys who manage money tend to be tall. This is so owing to the myriad psychological factors that make it easier to hand your stash of cash to someone you “look up to” –literally and figuratively— as opposed to someone you must look down to see.
So why should entrepreneurs present themselves to the world as small? Simple: Humans have an innate resistance to change, and if you’re pushing change you don’t want to exert too much pressure on your target audience. If you do, you create more resistance than Hercules could overcome. But presenting yourself as small –“Who me? I was just playing-around with my computer when I came-upon this new operating system…”— you boil the frog slowly, sneak your ideas past defenses and resistances, and before you can say, “MS-DOS,” you’re a hit!
Don’t get me wrong here: Should there be a need to defend your vision, product, or process, you need to be as tall as possible and rock solid. When I say “Be small” I mean when you are proselytizing a paradigm shift: Stuff like that must be somewhat under the radar lest luddites find ways to shoot it down.
3. Be A Thief.
The worst thing an entrepreneur can do is fail to understand the core components of his life’s work. There is nothing in any definition of entrepreneur that mandates inventing something. The problem is,Renaissance men like Benjamin Franklin (who was a star at every endeavor he undertook) and Thomas A. Edison (an idea generator on steroids) contaminated the popular notion of what it means to be an entrepreneur by building businesses around the myriad ideas they patented.
No need to strive for that godlike level of achievement. Instead, “borrow” ideas shamelessly, re-package, re-apply, and revise them to meet the market needs of tomorrow. If you don’t like my concept of being a thief, then call yourself a futurist. Just take care to never let on what you predict will be a need until you satisfy it. Otherwise, you’ll attract hordes of thieves who won’t have a second’s hesitation about robbing you blind.
4. Take A Vow Of Poverty.
You recall William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar [Act 1, scene 2], where the bard had Caesar observe: “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.” In Shakespeare’s day the consensus opinion held that fat, contented men, are the ones who won’t bite the hand that feeds them, whereas those who are gaunt, deprived, and rail thin, are starved for power and prone to fight for, and seize it, more tenaciously than most. I’ll argue that this view is half-right: What you want to be is lean and mean; hungry for everything but above all else, power.
The first article I wrote about entrepreneurs was inspired by the observation that most startups failed when VC capital came flooding through the doors, depriving once-starved entrepreneurs of the invaluable hunger that drove them to excel. If you want to keep your winning edge, eschew anything (or anyone) that promises to make you fat and happy.
5. Become An Orphan.
If you want to build a business you must make every hiring decision from a completely self-centered –i.e. business-centric— position. Your loveable brother Biff, all heart but no cortex, needs to be told to look for work elsewhere. Ditto cousin Carmella. Who cares if you took summer trips with her and her family as a kid? She adds nothing to your enterprise so don’t even consider giving her a job. There’s time-aplenty to be generous to “loved ones:” Immediately prior to your IPO. Have your broker put Biff, Carmella, Mom, Dad, and even Papa Charlie, on the list of “friends & family” eligible for stock. Until then, as far as work is concerned, think as if you grew-up in an orphanage.
Parenthetically, a study of American entrepreneurs will reveal than many men who made it big (women are different; they are too caring), were, indeed, orphans, marked for life by the pain of feeling “rejected” by one’s birth mother. Sure I sound like Freud, but I do so intentionally: Just consider howSteve Jobs is infamous for rejecting a daughter he fathered out-of-wedlock, until she was a teen. I’m not saying that being unencumbered by heart-string-tugging and wildly complex ties to people made Jobs the genius he was, but not only did it not hurt, some would argue being cut-throat vis-à-vis family is advantageous.
6. You Will Build It, Alone, Without The Help of The Nanny State. But Never Fail To Appreciate Your Team.
Entrepreneurs who make it are, in the main, isolated soloists. However, they know that much of the heavy lifting could not be done without role players, support personnel, seconds-in-command. There’s no harm –in fact, it’s appropriate— in grabbing the spotlight if your startup succeeds. That aside, once it does be generous with the spoils of success.
Most authentic entrepreneurs are not satisfied being one-hit-wonders. If you accept this notion know that nothing will kill your chances for an encore more completely than being known as someone who is niggardly when profits come rolling in. Don’t use money to give or gain the love of those who enabled you to succeed; simply use it as just deserts, and be generous with the whipped cream.
7. Swallow Your Pride.
While it’s well and good to have an image in your mind of actually or symbolically nauseating an abuser by achieving stellar success when you launch a business, it’s lunacy to think you know all you need to know to do so. Thus, hate an abuser, but ingratiate yourself to all the successful folks you can so they –given their feelings of noblesse oblige— will willingly mentor you.
What stops most entrepreneurs from assuming a “will you help me?” posture is the mistaken notion that when soliciting help they appear to be, or are, weak. Au contraire! Punks need false bravado to disguise inner feelings of weakness. But if you’ve got the faith that you are on the right track, are able and willing to dedicate yourself to the goal, then saying, “You know, Mr./Ms. Success… I’m not sure about how to go about this…” shows you’ve got both integrity and a head that is screwed-on right. You are not, like Oliver Twist, begging for another bowl of gruel, but, rather, asking a successful person to share his/her wisdom with you.
When you enact this strategy it is unlikely to fail unless you hit upon a psychopath. Otherwise, there is nothing a successful entrepreneur enjoys more than helping someone who is striving to become a member of his club.
This past August 25th, the nation mourned the passing of a true American hero, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. As he stepped on the lunar surface he famously remarked, “That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”
Although he was not an entrepreneur, Armstrong nailed what every entrepreneur needs to know: You help mankind by making well planned, long rehearsed and practiced, team-supported, small steps, then use them to pave the way for you, or others, to make small steps that build upon yours. Let corporate bureaucrats rev-up the juices of their minions with BHAGs. You know that game-changing innovations come from the skills and energies that are flowing through every fiber of your being.