Most weeks in the company-building game I have ups and downs, and this week has also seen both highs and lows. I am always mildly surprised by the intensity of my reaction to the low points. Even though I’ve preached to young entrepreneurs for years about the need to accept a great deal of failure and rejection on the path to success, and even though I know from decades of experience that it’s the truth, I still find both failure and rejection inordinately painful.
Sales rejection is fine… that’s part of the process. But I find it hard when people I expect to ‘get it’, don’t get it at all… or appear not to. I’m talking about Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs. These are the peer groups I look to with puppy-dog optimism for validation that the horses I’m backing are winners.
This week I asked an investor who I respect for his frankness to give me an opinion of a startup I’ve just begun backing. “Dog-tucker” he said. I was wounded. I’d enthusiastically pitched the business concept, and shown him what we’d achieved already. He furrowed his brows at me to show he wasn’t just making throw-away comments; “The horse is fine. You should shoot the jockey, but he’s attached too tightly to the horse…so shoot the horse.”
The entrepreneur did have significant weaknesses, but I thought I’d structured the business to manage those. I was deflated and concerned. When I got home, the company’s founder (the jockey stuck on the horse) rang me to tell me sales were going very well. We should hit break-even within the next month. That’s not bad for a company that’s two months old. I felt okay again.
A cup of coffee, and a few minutes’ navel-gazing led me to the root of my emotional turmoil. Although I no longer have the driving fear of imminent poverty to motivate me, I still have significant fear drivers… enough to keep me sharp in the game. I know a proportion of my start-ups will fail, but I care passionately about each. Even when I’m a minor investor (which I usually am) I feel responsible for the success of the company’s rollout. If I’ve invited friends to invest with me, that sense of responsibility increases even more. I don’t want to let down the other investors or the founder. So, when someone I respect tells me to ‘shoot the jockey’, I take it seriously.
Occasionally I consider retiring from the game; becoming a passive investor, or not investing at all. The thought of leaving the game is more of a downer than any bad news or negative feedback I get in a week. This week’s ‘ups’ included a couple of major sales results, an important new technology acquisition, and enthusiasm for one of my companies from investors. Where else would I get so many cool ‘ups’!! So, I’ll enjoy the ups, and continue to try to learn from the downs.