Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Zen and the art of Entrepreneurship

Everyone has a different idea about what Entrepreneurship is and everyone has different motivations for their desire to be an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur I get a lot of people who approach me to talk about their ideas and the business they want to start. Each one of them, from what I can tell, seems to have different reasons driving them. Some people just seem to be looking for more fulfillment. Unfortunately, I don't think everyone can find the answers they're looking for in starting a business.

What do people seek in entrepreneurship? Why do they want to do their own thing? Many will tell you it's because people want to be their own boss, be in control. But what does that mean? What if you have a great boss? How many people that are being managed well in a position suited to their strengths want to start their own thing? Will they find ways to believe they could do it better? Are some people just never satisfied. Or because they've never experienced a satisfying job with a good team do they think that entrepreneurship must be the way to make them happy? On many levels, wanting to be your own boss and be in control is a really bad reason to start a company.

Starting your own company, especially bootstrapping one, is on a fundamental level creating your own future. Manifesting your own destiny. And yet it's not always the best way to create the future you actually want. It's just a different future and can be just as dissatisfying as a corporate job. If you're not happy where you are there are a thousand ways to change where you are without starting your own company. So how do you know starting your own thing is the way to go?

You first need to take a deep look at what would make you happy. For me, it's about doing something that you love in a company that is aligned with your core values. Money should not matter. The desire for material things in me seems to be more a result of our inundation with marketing messages convincing us we want more stuff than a desire for happiness. The desire for money is a hard one to overcome and is a constant battle. I believe it necessary to remove this from the picture, though, if you are to truly evaluate this objectively and find the most fulfilling path.

I believe the best reason to start your own company is because of all the opportunities in front of you it is the best available option to combine your core values, strengths, and resources into an activity that helps you manifest the first two. This is very ambiguous, intentionally, because it's such fundamental topic. I believe one should put a lot of thought into what makes them happy before considering starting a business. I would highly recommend figuring out your core values and strengths and taking roll of your resources. With these critical tools, all you need to do is look for intersections of your values and strengths with your resources and you've got your best option for a happy, fulfilling career. This may or may not involve starting a company and it may require some creativity. Let's look at an example...me:

Many of my core values are now very evident in what I'm doing. My company, Greenling, is trying to help people and the environment. There is a list of our core values plastered on just about every wall in our facility and many of those are my personal values as well. My strengths are in spurring people and things to action, in developing ideas, in pondering the future and what it may hold for me and my company, in working hard to achieve goals, and in helping people focus on what's important (I discovered these through a tool listed below). I think these are fairly well-suited to entrepreneurship.

Many of my core values are rooted in helping the planet. I care very much about Sustainability and improving our environment. My other core values include hard work and dedication, integrity, loyalty, building and respecting lasting relationships. I developed my core values several years ago and when I got married, my wife and I developed our core values as a team and Greenling developed its core values a couple of years ago. It seems cliché or something that is so simple you don't need to pay it attention, but I believe it's incredibly important to vocalize and write these things down. They can make every other decision in your life a little easier by check your options against your values.

My resources were slim when we started, but I had some good friends with additional resources, connections and experience in the local Sustainability scene. You don't need a lot of resources to start a company. You just need to know how to leverage them. If you need resources you don't have, partner with people who do have them. And I think it's just plain easier to start a company in an area where you DO have some resources than to strike out on your own into the blue. And with how hard it is to start a successful business anyway, every advantage helps.

There are many tools for helping you develop your core values. One great one for developing them within a team is Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish.

For finding your strengths there are a couple of really good tools. Strengths Finder & the MRE framework.

Finding your resources just requires, well, resourcefulness. Who do you know? Who do they know? Make a list of family and friends and what they do for work (or personally). Talk to them. Do they like what they do? Are they well-connected in their industry? What do they have influence over? Are they the purchaser for things in their industry? Who do they use to help them do what they do?

With all of these things, you have some great tools for evaluating a new venture. Whether you're starting from scratch or you have this great idea and just need to evaluate if you really want to do it or not, these are the building blocks.

It's no coincidence that when you think about this process, it leads much more easily to a bootstrap model of business than the other two (cookie-cutter business and VC-funded business). If you're starting with something that makes you happy it is most likely not going to be just copying someone else exactly. We all have our own ideas of how to run a business. If you're just reading a manual and following instructions, how likely are you to be following your happiest path? The VC path can seem glamorous and sexy, but remember my point about being motivated by money. As has been demonstrated by Dell, Microsoft, Southwest, there is not a business on the planet that absolutely cannot be bootstrapped. So why would you take VC money? Because it seems to make everything easier. But all money does is put a magnifying glass on everything. If you don't start out of the gates with every detail of your business figured out, you could end up with some huge problems.

Innovation comes from constraints, they say. And not the constraint of someone telling you what to do. So many things were really important, but I couldn't do them all. So I had to pick the most important ones to do first. How do you discern which are most important? Constraints help, however painful they are.

I believe the only way for you to freely manifest your values and strengths in a start-up is through a bootstrap model. Figure out what you love and demo, sell, build. Bootstrapping forced me to look deeper at my business and make sure I was doing the right thing at the right time.

Mason Arnold - Greenling Organic Delivery

Greenling is an Organic food delivery business with about 1500 customers that get weekly baskets of Local and Organic food delivered to their doorstep. I started Greenling 3 years ago with Jonathan McCoy and Jonathan Duffy, who have both since moved on to other ventures. Greenling is my 4th official start-up (I consider it official when I start depositing revenue), though I have investigated dozens of business models and truly enjoy the entrepreneurship process.

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