I want to share a short story but first set the stage for it.
I meet so many people that want to start their own business, build their ideas or make dreams come true.
So few however really understand the journey and at times overwhelming challenges they’re about to get themselves into. Or worse yet, never truly grasp or confront the risks they’re taking in giving something one’s all.
This may be an odd comparison, but I think professional athletes are a good corollary to what an entrepreneur has to go through.
Pro’s have to slave away at conditioning their body, thousands of practice hours, and push themselves to the brink physically and mentally, all for a single event or activity, or a series of them.
As a career.
If they lose, they have to get back up, dust off and try again. Just keep going, learn, and do better, get better, go better.
As a professional athlete you’re getting paid to win. Paid to succeed.
It’s your career. Lose too often, or get seriously injured, and typically everything you’ve spent your intended life on will disappear.
All too often, this is sadly what happens. And those losses or injuries when severe enough will impact oneself mentally and emotionally so hard that full recovery becomes but an afterthought.
At that point, game over.
Life can be tough, but losing what you see as everything you’ve got, can take an absolute devastating toll on oneself.
Oddly enough, this is pretty much what you’re likely to go through as an entrepreneur.
You’re either raising capital and being paid to be a success, or soon enough being paid by your customers to make them happy with a product or service to survive.
If you lose along the way with customers, you do everything possible to recover and still grow with better client acquisition, salvage lost customers, and fix process and product bugs and add features and just service better.
With investors, they lose faith, confidence erodes, and you either restore that confidence, get new investors, pivot or solve story telling while keeping your foot to the floor on product, delivery and getting to revenues a lot faster.
And this is where the rubber meets the road as a founder and entrepreneur.
I’ve been through a lot of startups, both great ones I’ve started and others I’ve helped founders build.
10 to be accurate.
I’ve had some incredible successes I’m proud of, a few bumpy roads, but one particular failure that sunk me to the very dark depth of my existence, while wiping me clean of most everything I materially had.
This was a tech company I started with someone I met who became my best friend and a killer co-founder. To this day he’s one of the most incredible human beings I know. We’ve built such a terrific bond and business balance, that we’ve planned to remain together in most everything we do across innovating ideas and opportunities for decades to come.
He had a vision for a software platform that created a market, much beyond just an application itself. He had attempted to build it a few times but lacked the co-founder needed with the business acumen, relationships and operational experience and drive to take it to market and make it a reality.
Hence, I walked in. And we hit it off like gangbusters. Off we went, charging headlong into the winds of fate before us!
Each of us having been through multiple startups and inherent challenges, I brought in someone I thought was a “friend” of mine for raising capital.
Off we went and within 2 short years had a solid team of developers building a massive marketplace on a roadmap to success, and had managed to raise a lot of money. I was already at the table shopping our technology to some of the biggest Fortune 500 companies in our industry, and well on our way to very bright future.
Unbeknownst to myself and my co-founder that my “friend” had taken a core piece of our strategy, and using a back channel to our own investors, and the relationship I personally made with our first Fortune 500 client, he started building a competing software and used our Big Client to quietly contract onto theirs.
The next 18+ months was a nightmare.
Our company inexplicably hit more stone walls on getting financing and erosion of investor confidence than seemed imaginable to me.
Never realizing (until far after the fact) that our company was being strategically dismantled from the inside for a take-over, I pushed harder than I had ever before. I even contracted shingles due to stress, was living on pain killers, and still on the road testing new software before a secondary launch.
Things finally reached a point where I no longer had decisional control due to the draconian terms implemented by investors (as undoubtedly navigated by my “friend”), and all of us eventually parted ways, with them taking full possession of the IP.
It was at that pointI found myself staring reality in the face: what I just built for 4 years through blood, sweat and tears, was no longer mine.
For me, I took it was if I had just lost a child.
Hitting the ground at terminal velocity…
From there, things seemed to get worse.
Financially I got wiped out — completely.
The new house we were about to mortgage had to be forfeit, and my wife and I decided to completely uproot, relocate and start over.
Like 100%. Just leave.
Due to the logistics of our life, we lost everything in order to walk away and start over. We wanted no attachment to prior engagements or contacts. It was just one huge reminder of what was no-more.
The impact on me mentally and emotionally was devastating.
Sure, I had lost a lot of money personally and a few prior startups that never really took off, but this was at a whole new level.
Those who truly know me, know that I just don’t “give up”. And I certainly don’t just stop at something I have decided to make happen.
I had passionately worked so hard for so long, to build what I poured my heart and soul into what was clearly less than a year from becoming an industry game-changer.
Add to that, I had so many people working in my company that had entrusted me with their contributions and success.
Now, I had failed my own vision. I knew I had failed my partner, and those in my own company supporting me every step of the way. I truly believed I had let something that meant so much and had so much value, slip right through my fingers.
It was actually not until some time after we parted ways did I actually find out the real story.
For those last 18+ months, my co-founder and I were being covertly undermined by the very people, “friends”, my investors, and several I would have never suspected of betraying the incredible vision he and I had hoped to trust them in supporting us in executing.
Now walking into a second year removed from that experience, I remain at peace that everything I lost will never be an ounce of effort in recovering.
Realizing what counts the most…
But all was not lost.
In my darkest moments, I had one light that shined bright.
One light that never extinguished. The light that helped me see there was far more to all this than software, marketshare, investors, capital, forecasts, and conquering the world.
My true friends.
Those I loved the most, and who loved me unconditionally
I will never forget the very moment when my wife smiled at me, put my face in her hands, and said… “baby, I still believe in you”.
At that point, you don’t care about the house you lose. The car you don’t have. Or any materialistic things that give you a “good life”.
You realize at that point what the whole game of entrepreneurship is all about.
It’s about family. Your true friends. What you are truly grateful for, thankful for, and those who mean the most to you in your life.
Your wife. Your daughter. Your sister. Your family. Your best friends. And most of all, your own happiness and integrity wrapped around all of it making it whole.
Life isn’t about your own success, building a dream, a vision or accumulating great wealth.
It’s about having those in your life you care for and love the most. Seeing them. Touching them. Laughing, crying together, and holding and feeling their energy and very existence as a part of yours.
Wealth is having all of that.
Because you never know when you can lose that wealth.
Then, with honesty, truth and integrity, building an incredible life for those your care about the most and giving back to all of them.
That’s the passion that drives me to be an entrepreneur.
One ending means an even greater beginning…
Today, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life.
I am surrounded by those I love, mutually trust, and honest people.
I only have in my life those I can count on, and who can count on me.
I wrote an article some time ago called the 6 Bricks of Passion as entrepreneurial advice.
I’ll add a 7th brick of passion: love.
This brick is truly the foundation for everything in life.
As without it, you have nothing to truly be passionate for.
Love, and be loved.
And that alone will always keep your flame of passion alive.
Good luck. Stay passionate. And always love.