That's the question I posed to Jody Porowski, founder and CEO of Avelist, a company that has built a web-based service that helps users to create and share lists.
I find Jody's story fascinating. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Jody joined SAS straight out of school as a Content Manager and Social Media Analyst. She worked with a vibrant team filled with entrepreneurial spirit at what is ranked by Fortune Magazine as the #2 best company to work for. By all accounts she loved what she was doing. Then one day she decided to resign to focus her energies on Avelist.
What brings a person who has a fantastic and well paying job at one of the top companies in the world to quit and spend her time on an unproven business?
As Jody explains it to me, "I had a vision of a world where Avelist existed and I didn't want to live in a place where it didn't come to be." That, my friends, is what makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur. The total dedication to a vision and the guts to do what it takes to make it a reality.
Why This Moment?
When I worked in the music industry (back in the ancient days when people bought albums at record stores) I once had a well-known producer tell me that given how difficult it is to be a professional musician only those that simply couldn't live with themselves if they did anything else with their life should become one.
I feel the same holds true for running your own business.
Jody created Avelist because she has a passion for helping people organize information on the Internet. To fulfill her vision she worked a 40+ hours week at SAS while also spending another 40+ hours a week building Avelist on the side. In other words, she sacrificed to make her vision real. Once she had momentum - in terms of product development, friends-and-family investment and team - she took the plunge into Avelist full-time.
Smart Risk vs. Dumb Risk
There's a huge difference between smart risk and dumb risk. A smart risk is calculated. One where you've weighed the options, have a plan in place (and probably a few back up plans too) and believe that the likely rewards are worth more than the potential downside. A dumb risk is where you jump into a pool head first before you check to see if its filled with water.
Successful entrepreneurs quickly learn how to limit themselves to smart risks. That's exactly what Jody has done with Avelist. She didn't quit SAS willy-nilly. Instead she explored her options, built a protype, lined up seed money and then jumped in head first.
Team Then Users Then Investors
Its become cliche to say, but the truth of the matter is that execution is everything. Even if you have an idea you can't stop thinking about, have done your due diligence and are focused on smart risks you still need to... well, DO it.
So how do you pull that off? According to Jody, the trick is to first focus on your team, then your users then investors.
In other words, your team is the make-it-or-break-it item on the list. Your team builds the amazing product that your users will love and your investors will invest in. Your team carries the founder's vision forward and lives and breathes core values. Your team helps customers, solves problems and creates value.
If your team sucks then your business won't survive. If your team is strong than it is much more likely you'll have a product your users will love, share and pay money for... and that means investors will be much more likely to give you money to scale while allowing you to retain control of your vision.