3 Keys to Independence for Young Entrepreneurs

3 Keys to Independence for Young Entrepreneurs

Failure Independence

As we celebrate our country’s independence, I can’t help but consider the challenges faced by independent, young entrepreneurs.  I have quipped that “we raise our kids to be independent and then we don’t like it when they make their own decisions”.  This is never more true than with energetic, driven young entrepreneurs.

Gwen, my spouse of 33 years, and I raised our teen tech CEO, Joshua, to be independent.  Our job was to prepare him for life in a world that can be very challenging if you don’t know how to assess situations, make decisions and do things on your own.  I believe we succeeded.  Sometimes I think we may have done too good a job.

Some of the pitfalls of being independent and being a young entrepreneur with a natural sense of invincibility are as follows:

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know – This can give young entrepreneurs tremendous courage since they typically are totally oblivious to the possibility of failure. It can also put founders in some pretty serious situations with limited options, all of which are bad.  Be honest about what you know, and don’t know, and seek help to fill the gaps.  Surrounding themselves with people smarter than they are is a common characteristic of successful entrepreneurs.
  2. Independence doesn’t mean never depending on anyone else or sharing with others – This can really have some downside since entrepreneurs seldom know everything necessary and must depend on others to succeed. Also, entrepreneurship is a challenge both mentally and physically.  Entrepreneurs need others that they can trust will listen to what is going on with them and provide some unbiased insight and unconditional support.
  3. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – In fact, it is a sign of intelligence and courage when we have done all we can do to figure it out on their own and then turn to others to help us complete the mission.  It is a good thing when our sense of mission is more important that being independent or being right.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Like countries, young entrepreneurs must teach themselves how to do many things and be responsible and accountable for their actions.  However, this does not mean that one should go it alone.  Just the opposite is true. With countries, alliances and friendships matter.  Young entrepreneurs need others around them to fill their gaps in knowledge and skill, guide them, mentor them, and be a sounding board and willing listener for their ideas.

4 Things That Baby Chics and Young Entrepreneurs Have in Common

4 Things That Baby Chics and Young Entrepreneurs Have in Common

Failure Inspiration Parenting

I’m a process oriented guy by nature. I believe that there are actually only a few basic processes in the world and that we simply use those basic processes in a multitude of applications from scientific discovery, to solving engineering challenges, to developing employees.  Unless you grew up on a farm with chickens, one of the processes that you may not know much about is the early stage of life for a baby chicken.  I find it interesting that the process of a baby chic escaping its shell is similar to the development process for  young entrepreneurs.

According to a host of forums and information sources on hatching chics (yes, there are discussion forums for such topics) chicks are fully capable of breaking out of their shells with the egg tooth on the top of their beaks… it is what they were designed for!  There is no owner’s manual or set of instructions.  They’re wired to survive.  Humans are wired for survival as well.  As if survival and growth for all humans isn’t challenging enough, the path for young entrepreneurs can be even more challenging.

What can we learn from the similarities of the first hours of life for baby chics and the early years of life for young entrepreneurs?

  1. The Process Takes Time – While it can take chics from hours to all day to hatch, it takes young entrepreneurs years to develop. The comparison is a bit like the concept of dog years.  For the novice chicken farmer these hours can seem like an eternity and can be filled with concern about the chic’s survival.  Similarly, for young entrepreneurs and their parents, gaining the skills and knowledge to be an entrepreneur takes years of persistent effort.
  1. Be Patient and Only Help When Necessary – For the chicken farmer, patience and the discipline to not help the baby chic break out of their shell unless it is absolutely necessary are key to the chic’s survival. While there are techniques for helping the chic break out of its own shell, helping the chic too much will undermine the intent of the natural process.  It is the same with young entrepreneurs.  They must be given the time and freedom to figure things out on their own.  Like the baby chics, they were born with the capacity to be independent but we have to give them the opportunity.  Like the chicken farmer, we can help soften the shell just a little so they can peck their way out.  However, if we peel away the shell for them, they will not survive long term.
  1. The Struggle is Necessary for Near Term Survival – In the hatching process, baby chics gradually build lung capacity and physical strength. Both of which are required for the chic to endure the long hours and effort it takes to peck its way out of the shell.  Young entrepreneurs also need to struggle through many small challenges early in their development.  Dealing with these struggles early on will force them to build their knowledge and skills to solve problems and give them confidence in their ability to handle diversity.
  1. The Struggle is Necessary for Long Term Survival – The ability of baby chics to survive the hatching process is a key to their long term survival. As challenging as the hatching process was for them, the challenges of survival outside the shell are far greater.  The life of an entrepreneur is similar.  Building knowledge, skill and confidence early on will prepare the young entrepreneur for the greater challenges ahead.  These challenges are not limited to business but also include relationships, physical and mental health, and living a balanced life.

THE TAKEAWAY – The saying that “nothing worth doing in life is easy” was never truer than when describing the entrepreneurial life.  It is simultaneously incredibly challenging and amazingly rewarding.  It must be earned by years of knowledge acquisition, skills development, doing and learning, and sprinkled with periodic disappointment and failure.  If it were easy, anyone could do it, and entrepreneurs aren’t just anyone.

Is Accepting Failure Harmful to Young Entrepreneurs?

Is Accepting Failure Harmful to Young Entrepreneurs?

Failure

There have been many articles and blog posts in recent years addressing failure as part of the startup process.  I’ve written about it myself.  While failure is, to some degree, inevitable in entrepreneurial pursuits, as in life, it should never be expected or accepted as satisfactory.

Some people in the startup scene discuss failure as though it is required for future success.  It sounds like we are telling inexperienced entrepreneurs that they need to get their first failed idea, or two, under their belts so they have something to talk about and so their eventual story of success is even more compelling.  Let me be clear, failing is not some startup merit badge.  A failed startup is not a goal, it’s not a personal brand marketing strategy and it’s not a required milestone for success.

For the purpose of this blog post, let’s clarify the context of the term “failure”.  I’m talking about the ultimate failure of a product or failure of a company.  Failure of a company becomes even more significant when it has been funded by friends, family or fools, especially if those “fools” were local investors.  When investments by locals go bad, many entrepreneurs may never get a second chance with those investors.  If entrepreneurs have not developed a network of potential investors outside their local region, this could mean they will have to self fund any future startup efforts.

Entrepreneurs must use every resource at their disposal to develop products and services that consumers want, and then build sustainable companies around those products.  Failure is never a goal in this process.  However, when small failures occur, and they will in the normal course of events, they are important because they give us an opportunity to learn.  Failure is only a good thing if we squeeze all the learning out of it and then apply what we learned to improve performance and avoid mistakes in the future.  In that regard, failure can serve as fuel for the fire of success.

THE TAKEAWAY:  While small failures are a normal part of the entrepreneurial learning process and should be embraced as a potential learning opportunity, we should never expect it, accept it as inevitable, or become comfortable with it. Finally, I agree with the idea that “people don’t fail, businesses do”.  In my opinion, people can fail, but we do so only when we quit making our best effort to succeed.

Space Exploration and High Tech Startups

Space Exploration and High Tech Startups

Failure

I was listening to the Science Friday program on the radio while driving in the car recently.  The topic was space exploration and it reminded me just how similar it is to the world of high tech startups.  As many of you know, I worked for NASA and in the aerospace business for 13 years and I still have a passion for that mission.  Here are a few examples of the similarities between space exploration and high tech startups.

First, cutting edge technology is inherently risky.  Opportunities for failure abound.  Many times we make design decisions with the best information available but it is still not enough to make us comfortable or confident about the result.

The launch of a new high tech product by a startup can be spectacular or disastrous.  Similarly, while we do all we can to mitigate the risk, the reality is that a rocket launch is a controlled explosion.  I remember looking at the massive, miles long strands of cable in the belly of one of the Shuttles and thinking “how does this thing ever get off the ground”.

Finally, there is the constant battle between quality, time and cost.  If any one of those elements gets out of balance the risk of failure increases exponentially, whether it’s the production of a high tech consumer product or a spacecraft.

I was at the Kennedy Space Center the morning that Challenger exploded killing seven astronauts.  It was the result of an inherently risky endeavor thrown catastrophically out of balance by the pressure to meet a launch schedule and minimize cost.  Political and schedule pressure drove NASA’s launch decision, despite ice hanging off the spacecraft and design engineer’s concerns that critical rocket hardware had never been tested in those conditions.

I understand catastrophic failure.

THE TAKEAWAY   Young entrepreneurs: what you do is fraught with the risk of failure.  Take the risk anyway.  No matter whether you succeed or fail, you learn.  Constant learning is part of the process.  Keep it all in perspective.  As long as no one dies, it’s all good and we live to fight another day.

Parents of young entrepreneurs: The most difficult thing we will do is watch your kids fail.  Again, it is part of the process of learning how not to do something, developing the maturity to handle it, and keeping it in perspective.  Just don’t let them hit the ground so hard that they can’t get up.  We want them to test their will, but not break it.  Limits testing is part of the design process.  These young entrepreneurs are designing products and we are helping them design the kind of person they will be.