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March 30, 2011

Get Real: Telling the Truth About Being an Entrepreneur

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“The truth is more important than the facts.”
-Frank Lloyd Wright

Americans love rags-to-riches stories. Why? Because it reminds us of the American Dream. For all you entrepreneurs who have taken a chance, left your steady paychecks and pursued that American Dream, I’m sure you have an inspiring story to tell. How you choose to tell it is entirely different.

Statue of liberty

Susan shared a link with me today; it was about the creation myths some startups tell. Superstar companies love to tell the story of how the idea for their startup came to them one night in a bar, or how they worked out of their mother’s basement until tenacity paid off.

And while all of these stories may have truth to them – are they completely transparent and are they painting a realistic picture of how to obtain success? Is success something that comes merely from hard work, or is it chance plus timing plus good idea plus hard work plus opportunity plus who you know?

Whatever the magic formula is, once we obtain our success, we have two choices: romanticize it or tell it like it is.

I stumbled upon this video of Tara Hunt, an entrepreneur with a company by the name of Shwowp. While I’ve heard many glorifications of the idea of working for yourself, Tara paints a picture of the steps along the entrepreneurial path that aren’t always so pretty.

Tara talks about standing in front of potential investors and having the sinking feeling that no one is listening, how it feels when they tell you your business is going to fail and what happens when they sometimes pretend they’re interested and you never hear from them again.

These are kinds of things no one tells you to be prepared for.

The good news is that there’s still a happy ending. All the things that knock you down can only make you stronger, and fuel your passion to succeed. And personally, I think that’s a much more inspiring story.

I liken the glorified startup fable to the reality check you get when you graduate from college and enter into the real world that you worked so hard to get to. No one prepares you for the shock that ensues when you get there and say, “Wait — this is it?”

I think we need more people to be transparent about the struggles of startups and entrepreneurialism. We need to know what to be prepared for, the successes and failures, the highs and lows, the factors in the “success algorithm,” if you will — that goes beyond just the idea of hard work or a great concept.

The problem is, people never want to say anything other than, “Business is great” and “Business is booming,” even when it’s maybe not. Talking about the challenges of making a business succeed and how to overcome them helps others become better entrepreneurs and better businesspeople. And why wouldn’t we want that?

Some successful people may not even want to admit that maybe it wasn’t their brilliance that got them to where they were, maybe it was a combination of many other factors, like privilege, connections and so on.

But that’s not what they’re selling. They’re selling The Dream.

Don’t get me wrong. I think entrepreneurialism is one of the greatest and most rewarding ventures a person can take on. I also think that no matter where you come from and regardless of the opportunities you may already have over another, it’s full of risk and takes a lot of guts to pursue.

But the trade off is that you’re pursuing your passion; you’re working towards your vision, not someone else’s. And yes, you’re taking part in the American Dream.

What’s your startup story – the good, the bad and the ugly? Please share with us.

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8 responses to “Get Real: Telling the Truth About Being an Entrepreneur”

  1. Jeremiah writes:

    Great Post Jessica!! My start up story is still unwritten if you will but I will say this, the first lesson I learned was the entrepreneurial journey has valleys and peaks. Guest speakers who share their experiences tend to focus on the high points because it’s more inspiring. The problem with this is people generally tend to look at the finished product. When we see a breakout actor/actress who goes from obscurity to super stardom because of one award winning performance in a movie role and most will say “Wow, must be nice.” What they overlook in the process is the ten years of countless rejection, casting calls and perseverance that person took to arrive at this seemingly “over night” moment. The same applies in business. The only advice I can give is you will arrive at your destination if you push through every challenge and obstacle a long the way. Although success never quite happens the way we plan it, somehow the stars seem to align for each one of us. Thanks and you guys are awesome!!!

  2. Jessica Lee writes:

    Love it! Very insightful. I kept referencing the movie star story in my head as I was writing this. The media perpetuates the Cinderella story and then people are disappointed when they move to Hollywood expecting to be discovered overnight.

    But I love this:

    “The only advice I can give is you will arrive at your destination if you push through every challenge and obstacle a long the way. Although success never quite happens the way we plan it, somehow the stars seem to align for each one of us.”

    Thank you, Jeremiah!

  3. Jeremiah writes:

    Thanks Jessica! Hollywood is a great example. Great minds think alike! One quick note, seems like the great expectations for overnight success are more deeply rooted in American culture more so than anywhere else (I’m born and raised in Wash, D.C.)and the the entrepreneurial spirit here is as vibrant as ever but there does seem to be a connection with our perception of the “American Dream” as opposed to the expectations of the immigrant mentality who come to the land of opportunity for the sake of building their dreams. Just to switch gears my biz partner was an intern with Bruce Clay right out of college seven or so years ago before Bruce was the public powerhouse he is now so we think the world of you guys!! Thanks!

  4. Dee Ellis writes:

    Commenting on “Some successful people may not even want to admit that maybe it wasn’t their brilliance that got them to where they were, maybe it was a combination of many other factors, like privilege, connections and so on.”

    I agree totally here. Certainly people have had to work their way up from nowhere. But like you stated many times people do end up with great connections that end up helping them out more than they want to admit. I think in many ways we have all been there some, many though to a much higher degree. Connections really help in today’s economy.

    Nice Post, Thanks.
    Dee…

  5. Jessica Lee writes:

    Speaking of startup stories, Niel Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg, has a great one.

    http://www.quicksprout.com/about/

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    It’s all about who you know and networking. I truly believe that. Of course, you have to be able to get the job done, too. But when skill and connections come together, it’s a powerful thing. Thanks for the comment, Dee!

  7. Jessica Lee writes:

    The immigrants of those generations were the greatest! That was a time though that I did feel like hard work and a great idea did pay off — because there simply wasn’t as much competition or choices for consumers. I do think the American Dream is still obtainable, but it’s much more complex these days.

    Tell your partner we say hello! Wow, an intern here. Did we have him doing anything cool?

    Thanks for the compliment, we love hearing from you, Jeremiah!

  8. Jeremiah writes:

    Jessica,

    I agree. The complexities and dynamics of running a business today are far more complicated. It seems the 21st century entrepreneur must be much more well-rounded in his ability to grow. Oh and my mistake, my partner Adam wasn’t an intern but more of a student of Bruce Clay in 2002. He came in with another gentlemen by the name of Matt Fannon (who was taught by Bruce through a contracted company called Travel Worm). Sounds like it was more of a student teacher relationship. Amazingly my partner still attributes his S.E.O. I.Q. to Bruce and has passed much of it on to me, so you could say the lineage of Bruce Clay lives on and on and on. Thanks.



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