I feel like I had a rather archetypal entrepreneurial epiphany. It started with a gestational period of a year or so, which came out of a life-changing situation. Ideas came and went, sometimes stewed, but rarely stayed more than a few days. There was a growing awareness of creative, innovative urges, however, which arose during a period in my life where I had the time and space to consider problems beyond my immediate day-to-day sphere and think of bigger picture solutions. A time where I was open.
And then, one night, it came. A night where sleep evaded me as the problem and its implications seemed so clear to me, and the growing awareness that I perhaps held the questions that could lead to the answers. There was a buzz in my body as my mind whirred at the opportunities. I felt alive and elated, champing at the bit to see how this could be applied to a problem that costs lives, happiness, and wellbeing. It also results in billions of dollars’ lost revenue to many sectors around the world.
I’d found my problem to solve. In the past eight weeks I’ve been stealing minutes and hours between being a husband and father and full-time doctor; between maintaining a healthy lifestyle and communicating with friends. There’s always some new information to be gleaned, door to push, and opportunity to explore.
For posterity, I thought it might be interesting to share this journey. If my side hustle works out, it will be live broadcasting to others who pursue entrepreneurial ventures. If it does not work out, it will be a record of my pursuing something to make the world a better place, trying to improve a significant workplace issue, and attempting to provide more opportunity and resources for my future.
My wife just read me this quote from Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness:
‘I also can’t remember a time over the past year when I asked someone about an issue and had someone reply, “I actually don’t know much about what’s happening there, please tell me about it.” We don’t even bother being curious anymore…In a fitting-in culture…curiosity is seen as weakness and asking questions equates to antagonism rather than being valued as learning.’
Curiosity Disrupted. I’ve been disrupted by curiosity, and I want my curiosity to disrupt where I’m going.
So what have I learned so far?
- Hold your dreams lightly; hold your principles tightly. It’s easy to ‘fuse’ with a cause or belief early on, and to feel like one’s self is indistinguishable from it. I read a huge amount the last year about business, self-development, and entrepreneurship – before I even had an inkling I would have an idea to pursue. It laid the grounds for at least the awareness of the undulating path of entrepreneurship. Disappointments and encouragements come quickly one after another in these early days. It’s easy to get hooked into them, to hang all one’s hopes or fears on one or the other. It’s part of the process. It’s up and down in every way. Ride it. See if your dream can withstand it. But most importantly, see if your principles anchor you within it.
- Choose early partners with care, based on a sound knowledge of yourself. I feel incredibly grateful for the selfless and generous sharing of knowledge and skills that people have offered so far. I’ve been so impressed by people’s willingness to give of their time and advice, simultaneously acknowledging my passion and enthusiasm, and my lack of experience and skill in this area. It has been a great experience to say, “I don’t know much about this. Please tell me.” I love that I can learn ‘for free’ from other’s successes and failures, and that they are willing to share. I am really happy to have gotten a techy partner on board who is a wonderful human being and is creative. Recognising someone else’s character strengths means I believe that we will be able to navigate the tough parts, disagree respectfully, and say things straight as needed. The last thing needed when founding a startup is interpersonal drama on top of the financial, visionary, and occupational insecurity that need to be addressed. Skills can be acquired; work ethic, too, but much less quickly and a mismatch will cause headaches. Kindness, generosity of spirit, and openness are priceless.
- IT WILL ALWAYS GO SLOWER THAN YOU THINK. I was reading Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup from early on. I subconsciously started exerting pressure on myself; I think I thought that I should have a lean MVP out in the world by now, regardless of it being a totally new sector, having no early investment, and working full-time in another demanding job. The last week I have become more cognisant of the fact that buckets of drive and insight into the problem, and an overview of the ROI for the end payers, does not replace the requirement for hard cash up front to get something going. The principles of making things better for people, the intrinsic interest in the subject, and the internal perspective I have on the issues provide me with the drive to figure out how to get those dollahs.
These are some of the salient features learned so far. Beyond this, in brief I am also learning:
- Listen to all advice closely; take some with a pinch of salt; discard some: and figure out a reliable way of knowing which is which (see Ray Dalio’s ‘Principles’ – believability).
- Turn the feeling of, ‘shit, I don’t know anything about this’ (e.g. coding, encryption, investing, etc etc) into thoughtful curiosity. Again, hold it lightly. I can learn about something much easier if I’m not feeling like I need to be an expert in it by tomorrow.
- Avoid negative people early on. This is in bold because it should really be one of the main lessons. Pessimism does NOTHING for exploring an idea. Careful questioning, referencing contrary facts or experience, or being cautious are very helpful. I’m a big picture thinker so I need to be pulled up on details. Telling me that ‘people will never do this or that’, or ‘they’ll never like this’ makes me a) want to disprove it and b) ‘never’ and ‘always’ statements make me very doubtful of their veracity. Humans are grey; organisations are grey; society is grey. Tapping motivation at any of those three levels is essential for creating change. Whether one is successful or not is dependent on lots of other variables. But let’s not ‘never’ and ‘always’ one another.
That’s it for just now (here, anyway. Plenty more buzzing round my head). Hold lightly. Choose people based on character. Embrace delays and see it as part of the process. Be curious, and not afraid to show it. Questions rule the world.