Chances are if you’re reading this article in ExitEvent right now, you’re an entrepreneur. I should hope so, anyway. When I started this company some five years ago, I built it on the concept of “for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs,” because after doing startup for close to 20 years, I’ve come to the realization that the best source of advice in matters entrepreneurial comes from other entrepreneurs.
June 14, 2016
How To Support An Entrepreneur
We Stand On the Shoulders Of Giants
Note that I said “advice,” not “support.”
Entrepreneurs are terrible at support, and this is by design. We’re so busy propping up our own thing that we just don’t have the mental and emotional bandwidth to drag you through the mud of your struggle. It’s how we’re built. See you at the finish line and Godspeed.
So if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re reading this article, I want you to understand that this article is not for you. It’s for everyone around you who isn’t an entrepreneur. Send them the link.
If there’s one single person who has made my adventure in startup possible, it’s my wife. It’s not that one awesome mentor I met 20 years ago, it’s not that first investor who took a chance on a young kid with moxie and a bad haircut, it’s not that powerful influence broker who opened up all those introductions after seeing my deck.
In fact, to be true to my own history, I don’t even have any of those people in my past.
It’s the woman who didn’t blink when, while we were navigating toddler twins and she was six months pregnant, I said: “You know what, I’ve got a really good idea.” The same woman who, when that startup had finally broken $1 million in annual revenue, told me to go for it when I told her I wanted to change gears and get another company off the ground and that we wanted to teach robots how to write.
How insane is that?
One of the reasons I shy from credit for the things I’ve created is that it isn’t really me. Pull back the curtain and you’ll see that if I’m left in a vacuum, I’m sitting in a cube coding in some dead language and spending most of my time arguing arcane sports stats and deriding Van Halen’s decision to replace Roth with Hagar.
I’m not alone.
I know the significant others or most-important-people in the lives of some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the area. These people are sheer gold. And it doesn’t stop there. Their entire cluster of friends and family, of people surrounding the entrepreneur, that support structure is a crucial, if not key, element in their ability to achieve.
Let me be very up front about this. My wife doesn’t follow me blindly into battle. She’s not naive. Neither of us come from money, so there’s no safety net. She’s stronger than me, braver than me, and smarter than me. When decisions need to be made, we can spend hours, if not days, arguing and resetting and compromising until one of our stubborn brains kicks into an ego-free mode.
It’s a symbiotic relationship and a two-person job, but she is hands-off of the actual build. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that’s she’s in charge of everything that isn’t the startup. And believe me, all that stuff is just as important—likely more important—to the survival of the company than the nuts and bolts of the company and the product.
I can’t begin to imagine how hard that is to do. I have a difficult time sitting in the passenger seat of a moving car.
She will encourage me to try something different without it lapsing into something so crazy it just might work, and she knows the difference, inherently. She will cheer me on when everyone is saying no but we know I’m onto something. She will drop an f-bomb followed by the name of someone I’m having a difficult time with.
She will let me fail, and she’ll let me pick up the pieces on my own schedule. She will slap me back into reality when I start believing my own hype.
And it isn’t just her. I have friends outside of the startup community who know more about the evils and pains and awful moments of starting a company or navigating a startup than most of the entrepreneurs I meet. They get to hear every lurid detail, every failure, every mistake, every bad meeting. They know the seedy side of startup.
Admittedly, I don’t do that often. I’m not a complainer and I hate drama. But when I need to get something off my chest, I can’t go to that awesome mentor, or that visionary investor or that power-broker. I’ve gotta go to my support group.
They listen and, here’s the kicker, they don’t tell me what to do. They don’t tell me how to fix my product or streamline operations or get more customers or increase my revenue margin. They don’t give me any advice whatsoever.
They don’t let me have a pass either.
Example: Recently I had three very bad things happen to me in succession over the course of two days (some inside startup and some outside in real life). When I couldn’t compartmentalize and suppress it anymore, I fired off a text to one of my support people (i.e. my friend) in what would have been printed to an entire sheet of eight-by-eleven. Then I ate my lunch. When I was finished, I picked up my phone and I got this back:
“First-world problems. Quit whining.”
You either laughed at that, nodded in approval, or made a face and stopped reading this article.
The point is that THAT is exactly what I needed to hear. I figured out the rest for myself. But that’s just me, not you, not anyone else. And the only people who could push the exact right buttons to get me back on my game are the people who I am closest to.
It’s support, not advice, and it comes in many flavors, all personalized.
Note that this article did not come with a handy list. There are no steps. I can’t give you advice on how to support the entrepreneur in your life because that person is, again by design, likely 180 degrees different from me.
There is no magic formula for supporting an entrepreneur.
But if you’re doing it, I hope this helped. Godspeed, and I’ll see you at the finish line.