I love documentaries. In the past month I have watched two with a disturbing theme: attempts at market disruption, without the requisite moral compass. The first was about the Fyre Festival featuring the astonishingly unprincipled Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule who managed to cajole thousands of millennials into buying tickets for what was billed as a "luxury music festival". The Fyre Festival was to take place on a remote and pristine island in the Bahamas featuring top models and cool DJ's. The problem was that McFarland didn't have the appropriate skill set, infrastructure or funding to actually pull it off.
The second documentary was about the launch of Theranos, started by Stanford University dropout Elizabeth Holmes. Equally unprincipled, Holmes managed to raise over $400 million dollars for a blood testing start up that was supposed to change the world with its prick-of-a-finger blood testing technology. In the case of Theranos, the proposed technology was never FDA approved, nor did it actually work. And meanwhile, hundreds of people who tried the technology at its early stages received life threatening false-positive and false-negative indicators.
In both cases, privileged access to power structures enabled phenomenally poor behavior.
So this begs a question: What do you do when you have an idea, and passion but not necessarily the knowledge of how to launch and commercialize it? The answer may seem obvious, but clearly, it can escape the minds of some people when power and greed take over. The counterpoint to that greedy impulse is to cultivate the following 4 behaviors:
Humility- Never lose the perspective that will help you maintain grit.
- Patience- While we are regularly bombarded with images of peoples' curated best-selves through social media, the long game is typically the most advantageous to play.
- Self-Awareness- Specifically, the wisdom to know when to ask for help.
- Accountability- Surround yourself with people who can fill in your gaps of expertise- and with those who will push back on your impulses when reality checks are necessary.
There are examples of leaders who behave according to the principles above. Those who were bound to these principles in their start up phases include David Neeleman of JetBlue; co-founders Alberto Perlman, Alberto Aghion and Alberto "Beto" Pérez of Zumba; and Lisa Price of Carol's Daughter. Maintaining perspective and abiding to constraints actually enabled them to have effective and successful launches.
The tactic of "fake it til you make it" is, arguably, a necessary component of entrepreneurship: if you wait until you have 100% certainty on all stakes, you'll never make a move. But that tactic has its limitations. While risk taking is important, it has to be calculated risk, anchored in sound counsel and context.
We live In a time when we have normalized instant gratification. This stems from amazing technologies that have become ubiquitous; for example, search engines like Google and instant messaging and payment share platforms like Venmo. But there's a reason why mantras like "slow and steady win the race" have existed for so long. Quick fixes and instant successes are easy to romanticize. At the end of the day, your business needs to be a rooted in falling in love with people's problems- not your own hubris.