Thursday, September 13, 2012

Entrepreneur Insanity vs Persistence

entrepreneurs insane or persistent
An aspiring entrepreneur asked me a difficult question last week. How does one differentiate between insanity and persistence as an entrepreneur? When do you know it is time to drop your idea or keep pushing ahead? I did not want to blurt out the typical crap entrepreneurs say. The message on the surface is one of "stick-to-it-ive-ness"--that success will surely follow if one persists long enough. Everyone would succeed if that were true. This post attempts to answer this question that all entrepreneurs face, especially in the early days.

Do More Than Just "Hang in There" 

Success stories that were years in the making get condensed into 30 second inspirational sound clips for the Internet. Aspiring entrepreneurs eat up this stuff like catnip and take it as evidence to just "hang in there." But hang on to what is the piece missing in most entrepreneurial folklore.

Take for example, a program I watched about Daymond John, the founder of FUBU. Daymond recalled how he almost lost his home because he took out a second mortgage to fund his start-up. As I sat on the edge of my sofa anticipating the rest of the story, the next clip jumped to FUBU's subsequent worldwide success and the millionaire lifestyle now enjoyed by Daymond and his partners. In a fit of frustration, I stood and shouted at the television, "So, what happened!" The program ended as another example of the triumphant entrepreneur who gallops off into the sunset on a billion dollar horse. The details of how he went from almost losing his home to success were ignored. The message? Just hang in there! 

Adding to this theme is a 2009 tweet from Daymond that reads: "drive kept me going, a lot of pitfalls! was almost homeless gambling on fubu! not tkng no 4 a answer, desire & doing wht i loved kept me goin.

Is the lesson to mortgage your home and go homeless in pursuit of your idea? According to Daymond in this online interview, the answer is no. His advice to new entrepreneurs is to gain financial intelligence and understand all financial aspects of their businesses. In most of his talks on entrepreneurship he goes even further by saying entrepreneurs should understand every job of every person in their companies.

Daymond had a flash of inspiration and an idea. He pursued his idea and he hung in there. But he also had a plan, a process and a team. This is the difference between insanity and persistence.

Stopping the Insanity 

To keep from falling into an insanity spiral, follow the below steps to keep yourself on track.

1. Measure, Measure, Measure

entrepreneur inspiring quotes
If something is not working, the first step is to stop doing it. A means of measuring progress is the only way to know for sure. Therefore, set milestones and conditions to track progress when starting a new project or pursuing a new idea. This could include X number of subscribers, paying customers, product demos or reviews by a certain date. A combination of metrics may be necessary depending on the type of business or product. Next, decide how you will respond to the results. If the criteria are 100 subscribers by the end of the month, what steps will you take if you fall short of this number?

2. Commit to the Process, Not the Idea

Once you determine the metrics and responses, shift the focus to execution and following the process. This upfront commitment prevents the entrepreneur from becoming too emotionally attached to the idea. Unchecked emotions without something to measure against lead to poor results. A frustrated entrepreneur said to me last year, "If you're not supposed to give up, what do you do when it is not working?" He could not answer this question for himself because he ignored steps 1 and 2. Even if you miss a milestone, you may determine more time is needed and make adjustments. This type of calculation is only possible by creating and committing to a process.

3. Seek Counsel

If despite following steps 1 and 2, confusion and doubt sets in, seek the advice of those trusted advisors around you. Outside advisors have a detached view of the circumstances and are therefore more pragmatic.

4. Learn that Quitting is Not Giving Up

YouTube, Twitter and Flickr all evolved into businesses far different than the original ideas. Twitter was originally a podcasting service and YouTube a video dating site. Once the founders realized the original idea was not workable, they changed course until they found a winner. Hanging on to an unworkable idea for too long is the real cause of confusion and failure.

Inspirational talks and tweets are not meant to be taken as strategic plans. The purpose is to move us into acting on our ideas. Measuring and following process is part of taking action.

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.

See Also...

4 Tips to Help Entrepreneurs Follow Their Gut Instincts
What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Seeking Advice

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