Every life has defining moments – the kind that mold your character. Beyond discussing questions for would-be entrepreneurs, Rich shares the defining experiences that shaped his entrepreneurial spirit.
When someone comes to me stating he or she is going to start a business, here are some of the questions I ask:
What are the major reasons you want to be an entrepreneur?
Do you care what others say about you?
Does the prospect of a month (or more) with no paycheck panic you?
Do you know, within five dollars, how much money is in your checking account right now?
When was the last time you had a new business idea?
There are thousands of questions you could ask yourself, but these are just a few that give you a taste of how you’ll react to entrepreneurship. To help you further assess your aptitudes and inclinations, Ron and I have developed the Entrepreneurial Appetite Test, or EAT, designed to help you address your fundamental character and your appetite for entrepreneurship. This test can be found at www.bootstrapbusiness.org.
If you don’t feel ready quite yet, don’t despair. I have always had the appetite for entrepreneurship, but it took me years to develop the characteristics that allowed me to overcome the fear of launching my own full-scale endeavor. Thinking back, I can identify three critical moments in my life and career that forged my entrepreneurial character.
While working for Novell, I had a brilliant manager named Vish Vishwanath. Weekly, Vish would directly discuss with me in painful detail every mistake I had made in the previous week. It was agony, and my initial reaction was to deny the claims. When straight denial didn’t work out, I moved on to justifying my own actions, blaming the bad results on someone or something else. Then the epiphany came: what Vish was saying was true! I learned to embrace my shortcomings and look my faults in the eye. When I chose to own my weaknesses and took an active role in addressing them, I became empowered.
Later in my corporate career, I became extremely frustrated with an overly political work environment. One day, in a moment of total frustration, I created a banner stating, “Do the Right Thing and Damn the Torpedoes,” and hung it prominently on my office wall. The next day, I totally ignored all politics and simply “did the right thing.” I fully expected to get fired by the end of the week. Every time I turned around, I stepped on someone’s toes and had the nerve not to care. And yet an amazing thing happened. Before long, I was promoted multiple times. This mental shift launched my executive career.
In 2003 I took the big jump from corporate executive to bootstrapper. Several weeks into the transition, I blew out my Achilles tendon. Six weeks later, during a therapy session, I blew it out again. The doctor prescribed some potent pain medication, which resulted in some rather interesting hallucinations, including purple elephants dancing about my room. As excruciating as the pain was, what really terrified me was the realization that I would be physically out of commission for six months. This forced me to face the reality of being on my own. I didn’t have sick leave and there was no corporate backer providing health insurance or making sure I had time to recuperate. I had made my choice, and now I had to survive. My mindset shifted from hoping for success to demanding it. At this point, I literally willed myself to triumph.
These three experiences made me face various aspects of myself and how I react to different situations. I learned to address my weaknesses, do the right thing, and stand alone. Most important, I learned to know and trust myself. I was able to clearly see my vulnerabilities and make up for them with hard work and determination, as well as through relationships with others.
Take a few minutes to reflect on the experiences that have shaped your character and the lessons you’ve learned from them. Then consider how those lessons learned can assist you in entrepreneurship.