January 11, 2004
Of the various labels I could saddle myself with, “entrepreneur” rings true. This may seem like bragging, but it’s really not. Entrepreneur means “one who assumes risk for a business venture.” I know Inc magazine wants you to think entrepreneurs are the new breed of cowboy, that we’re all on our way to being Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, always seeing past the industry buzz to the “new new thing”. That’s just a lot of journalistic hokey.
Entrepreneurs are people who take a chance on an uncertain idea. They risk their time, their passion, and their money for something that could very well fail completely. Whether it’s a pizza shop around the corner or a semantic web software shop, entrepreneurs choose to step out onto the high wire, knowing full well there’s not much of a net.
You learn to live with that pit in your stomach, though some nights are worse than others. It takes faith to stay true to the task, particularly when the hits keep coming, as they did for many of us these last few years.
Right now, I’m almost six years into my third business. When the first one failed, I was devastated. My father, who had run his own successful small business for thirty years, saw how shook up I was, and did something I’ll never forget. He took me to lunch, gave me $14,000 worth of stock he’d bought me when I was born, and quoted Kipling:
Reading this now gave me goosebumps again. I wish I could say I took his stock and began business #2, inspired by my father’s generosity and timing, but as it turned out, it was years before I had enough “heart and nerve and sinew” to risk another turn.
We’re all of us risking, everyday. Some have more convincing illusions of security than others: a steady paycheck, a tenured teaching position. But even if it’s not the money at risk, there’s still the gamble of reputation, and influence, and ideas. Those of us that choose to put our neck on the chopping block, awaiting the axe or the accolades, know well the nervous moment when our heart skips a beat, when it geniunely can go either way.
Some nights I wonder why I bother. I imagine myself in a steady job where I keep quiet and let others do the hard stuff. I fantasize about owning a quiet service station somewhere, where most of what I do is talking with strangers about their day.
Then I remember my dad, and Kipling, and I’m at it again. What can I say? It’s a really great poem.
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