I was recently working with one of our entrepreneurs who was struggling with moving past some harsh criticism. As I was offering my best advice, I found myself quoting my favorite book – “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. It isn’t a book about becoming an entrepreneur, per se, but it is about achieving your dreams and is filled with advice that can be applied to entrepreneurs and the struggles you face every day. (Side note: if you have never seen Randy’s lecture, heard of his story, or read his book – I encourage you to do so!)
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book and how I believe they apply to entrepreneurs.
On hitting brick walls:
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
How it applies:
I know it seems like you hit a lot of brick walls as an entrepreneur – disinterested investors, product development delays, team-building problems, funding shortfalls, etc. – but the brick walls are there to discourage other people from continuing, not you. The brick walls are what separate you as a successful entrepreneur from those who fail. The brick walls show you how badly you want this. Attitude is everything, right? If you realize this is not the end, but, rather, a test of your drive, then you’re ahead of many others who have run into this same wall. My advice is to learn from each one and soak every bit of it in so that you know how to climb it next time. And if you don’t think you’re ready to climb it, start taking it apart brick by brick and you’ll be surprised how quickly it will come down.
On taking hard criticism:
“‘Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?’ he said.
I could barely muster a ‘yeah.’
‘That’s a good thing,’ the assistant told me. ‘When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, it means they’ve given up on you.’
And that’s a lesson that stuck with me my whole life. When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care.”
How it applies:
Entrepreneurs receive (what can feel like) a lot of criticism and harsh attacks – but most of these people are here to help you. Business advisors and entrepreneurs-in-residence are going to ask you really hard questions because it’s the best way they know to prepare you for being a success. They will continue to give you honest feedback because they care about your outcomes. If you stop getting honest feedback, that means people don’t believe in you or your product anymore.
“You can always change your plan, but only if you have one.”
How it applies:
Ok, this one’s pretty self-explanatory in how it relates to entrepreneurs, but it’s worth repeating. You might know what your end goal is, but without a plan, you can’t possibly reach it – at least not in a timely manner, and we all know the importance of moving quickly in a startup. So you have to create this plan – actually put words on paper and map it out. You’ll realize that once you’ve taken the first step of actually starting your plan, that you’ll be able to continuously build on it.
That said, Randy’s advice isn’t just about having a plan; it also articulates the importance of being adaptable. If you have any experience in a startup, you know things pop up and unexpected delays happen. You have to be able to shift gears and find a different path to that end goal. You will be constantly updating your plan, but you will be much further behind if you don’t create that plan in the first place.
On making assumptions:
“Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. …Ask those questions. Just ask them. More often than you’d suspect, the answer you’ll get is, ‘Sure.’”
How it applies:
Assuming you already know the answer to a question (and may even be afraid of what you’ll hear) can prevent you from progressing. As Randy mentions in his book, the worst answer you will get is “no.” This may oversimplify the complexity of asking for a favor or reaching out to someone for help, but, truly, the worst thing that can happen is being denied. On the other side, the best thing that can happen is that people will say “yes.” Sometimes, just the possibility of getting a “yes” can make reaching out a no-brainer. It can take a little bit of courage in the beginning to ask for what you seek – a meeting with a notable investor, a phone call with a potential customer, a more flexible way to finance your product development – but the payoff far outweighs the anxiety. You never know unless you ask.
I like to look for pieces of entrepreneurial advice and inspiration in unexpected places. We all know the best startup books to read and blogs to follow, but sometimes it’s nice to find knowledge and advice buried in a good read that applies to other aspects of your life. This book is filled with solid nuggets of wisdom that may help you get past that brick wall you’re facing.