Below is the sixth chapter of entrepreneur and VC Bo Peabody’s book, LUCKY OR SMART: Secrets For An Entrepreneurial Life.
Before you read this chapter, you might want to read a quick overview of Bo’s experience of founding his first company, Tripod: How To Start A Company In Your Dorm Room And Make $580 Million.
I once read about a couple in Rutland, Vermont. They were 90-seven years old, had been married for 70-five years, and were filing for a divorce. They went to the town hall to obtain the necessary forms, and in an understandable fit of curiosity, the town clerk asked them: “After 70-five years of marriage, why have you decided to divorce?”
The couple looked up innocently at the clerk and replied, “We stayed together for the kids, and now they’re dead.”
This is the type of devotion necessary to be an entrepreneur: devotion that makes little sense to rational human beings, devotion that is so crazy it’s charming and inspires the support of others. When I got married, one of my groomsmen quipped that it was my second marriage. Tripod was my first.
The workload of a start-up is ridiculous. It’s really not healthy. For eight years of my life, there were very few waking moments that Tripod did not completely consume. I rarely returned the phone calls of good friends. I routinely missed important family gatherings. I couldn’t keep a steady girlfriend. To put it plainly, I didn’t have enough time to maintain the sort of normal relationships typically associated with the human race.
A reporter once asked me, “What problem in your business keeps you up at night?” I answered, “I’m not sleeping at night because I’m sleeping at night.” My biggest problem was time.
In a good start-up, there are just not enough hours in the day to capitalise on all the opportunities you see. Add to this the fact that I was a completely inexperienced kid, and the problem of time is exacerbated. I was like a bad driver late for a wedding with no directions to the ceremony. Every mile seemed like two.
What propels this limitless devotion of time and energy is the unconditional love that entrepreneurs must have for their start-ups. It can only be described as blind faith. It’s astounding the number of people who will tell you that you and your idea are crazy. I have been thrown out of more than a thousand offices while building my six companies.
In 1994, I tried to convince the president of the largest mutual fund company in the world to make all of his offering documents available on the Internet. By his reaction, you would have thought that I was trying to convince him that all of his employees should ride unicorns to work. In 2000, I tried to convince America’s largest investor in venture capital funds that there are great start-ups in Boise, Idaho. I would have done much better with the unicorn pitch. In 2001, a month before it was to be featured in Gourmet magazine as one of the top 10 restaurants in Massachusetts, Mezze Bistro + Bar, Mezze’s flagship restaurant, burned to the ground. And somehow, after several setbacks and many A-students telling me I was crazy, I kept going. I told you it pays to not be so smart.
Start-ups are fragile beings. Virtually every successful company has, at one point in its life, come dangerously close to death. What revives these young start-ups is the work of passionate entrepreneurs with almost religious convictions about their company’s products. Patient and supportive investors can also be a big help. Paul Maeder, the co-founder and managing partner of Highland Capital and the most entrepreneurial venture capitalist I know, once said to me, “Every successful investment I’ve ever made was at one point on life support.” When a start-up goes south, and they all do at some point, entrepreneurs must work with their investors, colleagues, and customers to revive it.
Tripod, Village Ventures, and Mezze were all at one point at death’s door. Independent of what other people may have thought of the business logic underlying those companies from the beginning, or the chances of their success when they stumbled, I was going to will them to succeed—because Tripod, Village Ventures, and Mezze are fundamentally innovative, morally compelling, and philosophically positive companies. I absolutely, completely, one hundred per cent believe that the world is a better place with these companies than it is without them. And I knew that there were lots of people out there who would agree with me. I just had to find them.
I practiced my blind faith hard, and in the end, I found the believers. But even the believers started out as sceptics. And looking back on it now, I get the sense that many of the believers were a lot like the town clerk of Rutland, Vermont: unsure of the underlying logic of what they were about to get involved in, but inspired by the raw energy and sheer audacity of it all.
Reprinted from Lucky or Smart? Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life by Bo Peabody.