They bounce back.
It's THE defining characteristic of being an entrepreneur. Some
entrepreneurs are creative, some aren't. Some are tech-focused, some
aren't. Some are business savvy, some aren't. But bouncing back.
Yeah, that's what makes an entrepreneur.
I'm working with some business school students right now on an
entrepreneurship project. They're putting together a pitch deck as
part of their spring semester, and I'm advising them. After 4 weeks
of work, they were still 'concepting' the investor deck and hadn't yet
produced a reasonable first draft. I was growing concerned with their
progress. They were doing typical MBA things that may have worked
well in, say, consulting, but were a poor match with entrepreneurship.
I was most concerned with their slow rate of adapting to the
Finally, after another week of too little progress, I emailed the group's
leader this message:
"I think it's wake-up call time for both you and the team.
I have significant concerns that this project will come to fruition
with any level of acceptable quality and depth, both in terms of
normal school standards and my standards, which are considerably
higher. I'm not saying you won't get there, but as of yet, I've seen
no evidence that this team, as currently led, will make it.
I doubt there are many things in your life that you have done poorly.
I fully expect you to take a tough round of feedback in stride and
respond with gusto. As always, I am on your side and available to be
helpful in any way that I can."
It was a pretty tough message to send and to receive (I assume, far
tougher to receive). I do like being a nice guy, supporting people
with positive encouragement. I come from a summer camp background and
believe in helping build people up.
Except when that doesn't work.
And positive encouragement doesn't work with certain kinds of
smart people. Some smart people (and lots of them go to business
school) have had too little failure in their lives. They're so
successful in everything that they do, that they are not accustomed to
tough feedback, disappointment, gut-wrenching failure. These smarties
develop an unhealthy fear of failure.
In my follow-up conversation with this student, we talked a lot about
the concept of iteration. He had led his team through 4 weeks of
planning and discussion with no real output yet. I told him to get
the team together and come up with a version in the next 3 days.
Whatever it is, at least then we could start iterating. It made total
sense to me--enough planning, let's get to a minimum viable product!
His response took my breath away. He said:
"If my team burns the midnight oil for 3 days, producing a deck and it
turns out to be no good, their morale will be crushed. I can't do
that to them."
And that right there is fear of failure. Five uber-smart,
accomplished people can't handle a tough round of feedback? I highly
doubt that. Actually, it's not fear of failure, it's fear of the
possibility of failure.
There are two massive implications to protecting yourself from
failure. The first is that you limit yourself by choosing challenges
that are guaranteed wins. You lose out on all sorts of experiences
that would've been incredible learning opportunities because you didn't want to risk failing.
The second implication, which is far more dangerous, is that you actually believe
that your skills are limited. When forced into new, tough situations,
you give up before trying. Just think of how many times you've given up on
yourself without really testing your own limits.
I've failed at many, many things in my life. I've become quite good at it actually.
I remember so vividly how I felt when my first company failed.
It wasn't just that the company had failed, it was that I had failed.
And in my mind, it was even more than that. I had failed because I was
a failure. I remember the regret I felt for skipping those traditional
business school job opportunities. Working at a consulting firm,
making a stable salary, and not failing. In that moment, consulting felt like it would
have been the best thing in the world. Instead, I was stuck in a very
lonely depression, unsure of what to do.
Funny thing though. That only really lasted like 3 days.
Failure is like swimming in the deep end. As long as you don't drown,
it's not as scary as you thought. After 3 days, I called up my co-founders and we
agreed to do another start-up together--whatever that would be. Four
weeks later, we started FlightCaster.
Entrepreneurs bounce back.
I had a really good talk with the MBA student leader a few days ago. I
reiterated that I believed in him and that I am on his side, available
to help. With half a semester left, he has plenty of time to bounce
back. He had no plans to be an entrepreneur. In fact, he picked this
project because he wanted to step outside of his comfort zone and
learn something new. I am confident that he's going to blow
away all expectations, including his own.
This conversation just happened. I've written this post before I
actually know if he is going to make it. The team's final project
isn't due until the end of May. I've asked his permission to
publish this post now, and I'll update you all in a few weeks with
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