David Ogden is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Triangle-based startup Userlite. He has deep experience launching and growing SaaS companies in education, finance, entertainment, and healthcare.
I have two sons. Both are amazing. And both love big waterslides.
Driving to the waterpark, they’re both ecstatic. As soon as we enter the gates, it’s a bee line to the biggest, tallest, most outrageous waterslide in the park. Excitement builds as they run up the stairs. Both are smiling and laughing they can’t wait! They make it to the platform. My first son doesn’t skip a beat. In a single motion, he runs to the edge of the slide and dives in. He’s off! A shrill of pure bliss echoes through the park.
My second son is different. He runs, grinning, all the way to the edge. Suddenly, he stops. Looking down, his grin falls open and he freezes. The excitement is over and the reality of what he has to do sets in. In the case of the biggest, wildest ride in the park: he doesn’t have it in him.
This story happens every day in the world of startups. As entrepreneurs and investors, we all want to change the world in a big way. But when it comes right down to it, are we willing to take the plunge?
Ask yourself: Will you really enjoy the ride?
We live in a world where the most exciting and enjoyable opportunities in life are constantly flashed in front of our eyes. The people
To any one of them, winning would be out-of-this-world. Top 10 would be unbelievable. Top 100 would be the achievement of a lifetime. But imagine what the Boston Marathon would be like if only people who knew, for sure, that they could place in the top 100 would enter the race. Who could be so sure that they would even enter? The race could not be the world-renowned event that it has become without the thousands of participants who are running just to finish.
For entrepreneurs and investors in startups, the chances of achieving a big win and changing the world are almost zero. Yes, the big win is the ultimate prize. But there are so many other amazing things that we get from the thousands of startups that risk it all and leave everything on the table to be successful. The economic activity, the lessons learned, and the innovations and creativity produced by startups that don’t win big are priceless for our economy and our society.
Big wins in every field of human enlightenment are only possible because there are thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs and teams who are willing to say: We might not win. Something might happen and we might not even finish. But this is such an amazing opportunity that we have to try.
Commit: One smooth motion.
Back to the waterslide analogy: My first son does it right. He was committed when he took the first step on the first stair at the bottom of the slide. In fact, he was committed when woke up that morning. By the time he gets to the top, he uses his momentum (both physically and emotionally) to throw himself down the slide.
Doing it any other way is a disaster. Stopping at the top, you have no momentum. Trying to take it slowly will never work. Once you’re on the ride, you can’t control what’s happening and fear takes over. By the time you get to the bottom, you feel like you’re drowning and you never want to try anything like that again.
The worst thing you can do as an entrepreneur is pace yourself and try to take things slow. Just about every aspect of starting a company requires you to push as far ahead as you can each day. Momentum is the force that enables you to plow through difficult obstacles, discouraging setbacks, and the ever-present friction of distraction.
Rise of the Rest
The Triangle startup community is vibrant. The talent pool is rich with innovative thinkers, enthusiastic doers and visionaries who are ready to take on the world. If the Rise of the Rest can happen anywhere, it can happen here.
It’s important, however, that as entrepreneurs and investors we take stock in who we really are and what we really want to do. Silicon Valley is full of talented entrepreneurs who drop everything, leave everything, and sacrifice everything. They move to the valley and dedicate their lives to doing something big.
Equally important as the entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley is full of VCs and Angels who are not afraid to take the plunge. Instead of viewing their money as an investment vehicle that earns predictable returns they view capital as the fuel that powers their mission to change the world. They know that changing the world comes with enormous financial returns. Instead of limiting themselves to safe bets that follow a proven formula, they look for opportunities to disrupt. Instead of looking to the past for a repeatable pattern, they bet on their ability to look ahead and understand future markets and opportunities.
Sometimes I wonder if I should move to the Valley. I wonder if all of us who want to change the world of technology in a big way should set up shop in Menlo Park or Mountain View or Redwood City.
But I’m not going to. And it’s not because I’m not willing to drop everything and dedicate myself to winning big. It’s because I believe in the Rise of the Rest.
Silicon Valley is the pattern of the past. Yes, it works. It’s a proven formula. You can get predictable results there. But instead of giving in and trying to repeat someone else’s pattern, I want to be part of the future. A future where world-changing technologies and innovations are envisioned and cultivated outside of Silicon Valley.
When I look ahead, I see a startup ecosystem where geography and status matter less and people matter more. A future where innovation happens because brilliant people work together in courageous ways not because they follow the patterns of the past.
Here in the Triangle we have the genius. We have the talent. But it takes more than genius and talent to transform “The Rise of the Rest” from a vision into reality. It takes more than ambitions and intentions to execute the next big ideas that will change the world.
The question is not whether or not we have the resources to rise. Instead, it’s a question of courage. As startup founders and investors do we really have the courage to take the plunge?