Ultimately, when I hire, I’m looking for someone who has a relatively good amount of patience to grind, and grind, and grind, and grind away. There are a lot of great benefits to working on a venture like SXSW Interactive, but ultimately we are an organization that conducts 8 to 10 months of planning for 5 days.
For those 5 days to be successful, there are hundreds and hundreds of details to be managed, the majority of which I think we do a pretty good job of mastering. But, if a candidate for the SXSW organization doesn’t have the patience to work on those details and the ability to manage the frustration of the minutiae of the event planning, then they are probably not going to be a successful fit.
In my personal experience – and, by the way, what I have heard from SXSW speakers when the present their talks or panels – is that persistence trumps talent and/or expertise…an idea that I very much believe in.
Generally speaking, the entrepreneur’s journey often has them doing a lot of different things, from getting a technical education to experiencing a wide variety of work-life situations, that give them the self-confidence and thick skin to pull themselves up when you fail and not dwell too much on the pain or negatives of what went wrong.
You may strike out 9 out of 10 times, but on the 10th time, you may get a bunt single, steal second, then get to third on a sacrifice fly, and finally score on a wild pitch. The most important quality is to do whatever it takes to just keep going. Eventually, my experience is, you will be able to narrow your way towards what you are doing right. Then, you can start claiming some of the rewards of all that work.
Most enterprises begin with one person starting out alone. You are the only believer. Eventually you find someone who will listen to you and who comes to see the same vision. That person becomes your partner, your investor, or your first employee. Now there are two of you. In time, there are three, then ten, then one hundred. Eventually, if you are persistent enough and dedicated enough, the whole world sees the vision.
It’s a long march. You start out uncertain of your ability to generate any sales. In time, you make some sales, but you’re not sure you can make any profits. Then you make some profits, but you’re unsure of your ability to sustain them. You start out with nothing but unanswered questions. Then you proceed to answer them, one by one.
Overcoming obstacles is one of the most common patterns you see in the building of great enterprises. When Carnival Cruise Lines first started, the company couldn’t afford a new ship — so they bought an old, slow, beat-up one. Their cruises took longer than the competition to get to the same places, so they added discos and such to keep the passengers entertained. From that make-lemonades-out-of-lemons start, Carnival reinvented and reinvigorated the cruise industry, and today it holds a market share in excess of 50%.
Few people realize how much work starting a business really is. It’s not a 9-to-5, 45-hours-a-week job. Startups are all encompassing, 7-day-a-week jobs, with very long hours every day. It’s an incredible amount of work that most people haven’t really thought through.
Sticking with the work is essential. I have met countless entrepreneurs that academically were not at the top of their class, or that never even graduated from college. Usually, that’s because they were consumed by the tasks required to keep their ventures afloat and moving forward every day. Thus, I sometimes tell MBA classes (although it doesn’t make them happy, when I tell them), that 95% of them have already self-selected out of an entrepreneurship path.
"Would you trade places with a guy in a wheelchair?"
by Greg Businelle
I can't really say that I remember the day clearly. It's not like it was yesterday. In fact, it was almost 15 years ago that a waterskiing (wake boarding to be more exact) accident changed my life and my wife's forever.
In what I've come to understand to be a few seconds, I fell in the water, broke three vertebrae in my neck, drowned, and damaged my spinal cord. My brother is a Houston fireman and was in the boat, so he brought me back using CPR. Breaking the bones would have been no big deal but slightly bruising my spinal cord paralyzed me from the chest down. I have never gotten better and spend my days in a wheelchair. So I'm curious, would you ever consider trading places with me?
Now I know that on the surface this is a very odd question for me to ask.
Based on the tiny amount of information that you have about me, surely you must think that this is a crazy question! Perhaps, but don't decide just yet.
Being in a wheelchair gives me a perspective that I did not have before. I am not at eye level with anyone except for children. So most of the faces I see are young, happy, and hopeful. The preschool kids are the best in that they want to know what happened to me in a purely innocent way. Once I tell them that I simply hurt my neck in an accident, they generally get on with telling me about their shoes or their hair or their toys. Then they go back to doing whatever it was they were doing while throwing me a smile and a wave before leaving. There's no sadness or distress in their eyes. Why would there be? Would you like to see kids from this perspective everywhere you go? Consider trading places with me.
Prior to my accident, I was in a very stressful corporate job where I rarely worked less than 50 hours a week. If I were to add in the drive time from Seabrook to Houston my weeks were more like 60 hours. Even when I was home my mind would rarely leave work. I remember being stressed, unhappy, and somewhat miserable. Do you have weeks or months or years like this?
After my accident, I found that it was very hard to even get an interview much less a job from a wheelchair. Then and now the unemployment rate for a disabled person is more than 75%. While trying to find a job I designed a website for friend of a friend just to keep my sanity. Fourteen years and hundreds of websites later, I have managed to create a successful software company. I work from home mostly, and my office overlooks the very spot of my accident. In fact, I am looking at the water right now as I write this article. It doesn't make me sad; in fact, the lake is quite beautiful today. If you traded places with me, you could be looking at the lake every day too.
I had no children the day that I was hurt. Within a few years, God blessed us with a girl and a boy. It's hard to believe that they are 12 and 9 years old now. They look like me and my wife, they are healthy, and they are the joys of my life. I know that I'm blessed just as any parent knows that they are blessed. Would I change anything about my accident if it meant jeopardizing having my kids? No, "God bless the broken road" that has led me to my life.
By now I'm hoping that you have considered, even for a moment, if you would trade places with a guy in a wheelchair. Let me also tell you that I'm a man of faith in God, I've been married for 19 years to a beautiful lady, and drive a pretty nice car.
So, would you trade places with me? Well, I'll let you in on a secret. I have misled you a little bit with this article. I hope that you know the Lord and, regardless of your situation, are blessed and busy living and loving the life that you have been given. I hope that you would not trade places with me. In fact, I hope you would not trade places with anyone. The grass is not greener, their stresses are not less, and their business is no better. Regardless, the truth is and what I really want you to know is: it is I who would not trade places with you!
Founding a company is unlike any other role I've ever had, even though I've started plenty of things from scratch for other people. In those other jobs, I always had someone providing at least a compass and a minimum set of resources, and setting boundaries and routines because the project operated within a larger company framework. There was always a sense of "togetherness" vs "aloneness."
Having a start-up is sheer freedom... and sometimes sheer terror. You make all the decisions, and wear so many hats, some of them outside your comfort zone. It's impossible to do it any other way. Founders have to be nimble and brave and determined every day. The bias is on action, which means there are inevitable mistakes. Mikey Trafton at Capital Factory says that nearly all CEO's are learning on the job, and they're all crap ... so get get used to it. Your goal has to be to learn quickly, and well.
Of course you have a much better chance if you surround yourself with great mentors and advisors. People who have built companies from scratch, and know what you're going through. The best of them have great empathy for new founders - they KNOW how hard it is to hold on to your vision and carve out a workable strategy within your limited resource constraints. They don't second-guess your choices, but they do share relevant experience and ask questions that help you see your business in a different light. They help you make priceless connections, and they help you with perspective when things get rough. They've already made some of the mistakes that rookie CEO's make and they respond with empathy and encouragement, letting you know that it's normal and inevitable. They help put your focus on the recovery, and work side by side with you to quickly arrive at workable solutions. They also push you and help calibrate progress in the context of the many start-ups they see. This is so valuable, as it is otherwise easy to get lost in the small but exciting world of your own thing.
No one ever builds a successful start-up by themselves. The founder is certainly a critical ingredient, as they have so much on the line. At the same time, they wouldn't get anywhere at all without the encouragement and support of all of those around them. From the first customer, to the first employee, to the first advisor and investor, all have a important role in the eventual success of the business.