Five tips for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur.
First, you'll discover in your journey that, except for your grandmother, the people from whom you really learn things of value--good or bad-- are not warm and fuzzy folks. They are sharp, hard-edged, driven people with a clear sense of purpose who are always asking more of you. And, the real reason that those encounters are so instructive is that, in the midst of all of the blood, sweat and tears, and the occasional screaming, you will never doubt for a moment that they believe in you, that you are up to the task and can do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal. Better yet, they will be there working right beside you when you do.
People today don't commit to institutions, (if they ever really did); they commit to other people. While being liked is nice, being respected is more important. Try to be one of the latter.
Second, most of the world's great art, films, games and music, as well as most of the great inventions, are ultimately the expression of a single, uncompromising vision-- albeit managed, massaged and manipulated through a sea of change, confusion and compromise. Consensus is about finding the middle ground and making people feel good about themselves, and each other. Teamwork is about getting the help you need to see your vision through to completion. But these collaborative tools and approaches will only take you so far. In this life, if you're lucky, you'll have a moment, an opportunity, to make something special and spectacular, and your job is to seize that moment and make the most of it. But, to pull it off, you'll need to have the courage of your convictions, unwavering confidence in your abilities, and a willingness to make and stick to the hard choices that will inevitably arise. Don't miss the train, because it won't wait for you.
Third, get your priorities in order, right from the start. If you want to be an entrepreneur, get to the back of the line. The company (and its investors) comes first. The customers come second. The employees come next. And you come last. Get used to it. In more than 50 years, I'm proud to say that I never once put my personal desires, goals or even my financial interests ahead of those of my partners, investors, customers or employees. If anything, I've done just the opposite. I've lent money to risky employees and customers and even other entrepreneurs; co-signed home mortgages; helped with education and medical expenses; and subsidized salaries when the various businesses we were building couldn't afford to do so. I'd do it again in a minute. It just comes with the territory when you believe in what you're doing and in the people that you're doing it with. And remember, while you're at it, to make some time for your family as well. There's always more work, but you've only got one family.
Fourth, plan on biting your tongue and eating lots of humble pie. At least it's not fattening. There are plenty of people who think I'm outspoken, demanding, hard to say "no" to, etc. and they're not wrong, but they don't know the half of it. In this life, especially when you make a business of being in the business of using other people's money (which entrepreneurs almost always do, eventually), you learn to hold your tongue and suck it up. I love to hear about all these successful people who don't suffer fools gladly. That's all well and good - especially for CEOs at the top of their game - but it's a formula for failure for the rest of us. Part of the curse of being an entrepreneur (and one of the best ads I ever wrote) said: "I've spent way too much time explaining my talents to people who have none." In truth, that's just another part of the job.
Fifth, nothing is more important than making room for people. All kinds of people - because talent comes in lots of different sizes, shapes and packages. We want the talent, but we aren't always willing to understand that it's a package deal. Some work all night; some don't bathe; some are insufferable and brilliant at the same time. You need to make room for these people and run interference for them if you want to build a great company. Too often, entrepreneurs try to find and hire people that look, act and talk like themselves and this never works beyond the first few employees. You need all kinds of people - even people merely looking for a job, not a career, and not looking to join your sacred crusade. That's okay, as long as they're willing to work as well as they can. And honestly, your employees don't have to love each other or go bowling every Thursday night. They just need to show up and do the work. Everything else is gravy.
Lastly, how about if we all hunker down and try to build some real businesses that will matter in the long run; that can help make concrete changes in people's lives. Education, energy, sustainability and health care are sectors that will all be disrupted and radically changed in our lifetimes. They also happen to be the areas that provide the greatest prospects for doing good while you're doing well. If you focus on making a life, and not just a living, the rewards-; tangible and intangible-; will be far greater and a lot more meaningful in the long run.