My friend James Oliver published an interesting article here on SteamFeed.com that artfully describes how perseverance is vital to the successful entrepreneur who wants to have any chance of getting his or her venture off the ground. In the middle of his own experience as a entrepreneur working in an accelerator, he writes about a conversation with a successful entrepreneur who overcame a number of apparent failures that would have derailed “normal” people to eventually gain real traction.
Actually, in fairness, James doesn’t talk about the concept of perseverance that most of us are familiar with, but some nuclear form of the term, which can have a lot in common with delusion. In fact, many entrepreneurs are fundamentally delusional. If they don’t succeed, then they are considered delusional by friends and family, but if they do succeed, then they are considered “visionaries” by the tech world. It’s a fine – and unfair – line, somewhat consistent with the ESPN trope that to be considered a truly “great” quarterback in the NFL you must win a Super Bowl (yet most of us would view Dan Marino as great and Trent Dilfer as ok).
In reading James’ article, I got to thinking about the difference between perseverance in the start-up versus in an established company.
I remember an adage from business school that if some business effort is failing in the market, you should one of two things: either abandon the effort entirely, or double down with more investment. The idea is that most companies do neither, and simply drift along getting the same disappointing results with the same level of investment.
An herein lies a fundamental difference between the entrepreneur and the “intraprenuer” (the entrepreneurial leader inside an established company): The entrepreneurial leader simply must be delusional to overcome the energy drag that comes from hearing the many well-articulated reasons why their idea won’t work. The intrapreneurial leader, however, owes a responsibility to investors and shareholders – who likely have a different set of risk tolerance and investment performance expectations than startup investors – to invest resources (time, money, people) wisely to generate maximum return and growth.
While the entreprenuer’s most scare resource is usually money, the intrapreneur’s most scarce resource is available time and talent inside their company to solve a problem. While the entrepreneur has to overcome “I’ve never done this before”, the intrapreneur has to overcome “this is how we’ve always done it”.
Both are challenges, but the outcome is that some entreprenuers quit too soon, while some intraprenuers quit too late.
There is another adage I like in the business world: when a deal closes, there are two winners – the guy who won the deal, and the guy who got out early. Since we use an abundance of sports metaphors in the business world, the word “quit” can goad executives into making bad decisions, much like the way Marty McFly would suffer brain freeze whenever an adversary would call him “chicken”.
I often tell young people that business is both an art and a science, but of the two, it more like art. When to quit and when to double-down is one of the finest forms of art in today’s business world.