There I was suspended with my body standing perpendicular against the wall of a 50-foot rappel tower. Above a Marine drill instructor was barking at me. I could see his veins popping out of his forehead. “Lean back, look over your right shoulder, and double-time backwards! Do it, now!”
For a split second I weighed my options, thinking, "There’s no way that I’m going to be able to crawl back to the top of the tower. And, no one is going to help me out of this predicament”. I realized that between where I was suspended and ground zero, I was on my own. Literally. My only option was to take the plunge so I swung my arm from a 3 o’clock position to a 6 o’clock position, pulled the rope behind my back, and descended. Within seconds I was standing at the base of the tower looking up at my drill instructor, responding with an Oorah!
In many ways, I believe my 10-second experience is very similar to venturing into new business. Why would somebody ever leave their comfortable job with the benefits of health care, paid vacation, bonus, and manageable work hours to start a new company? Why would somebody put herself in a predicament of spending every waking hour thinking about work, depraving oneself of sleep, while constantly tweaking a product to demonstrate its value to others? What if you fail, what then? If you take on a loan or money from investors, how long will it take you to pay it back? What about retirement? How will you manage to save? If the thought of this scenario makes you cringe, then my advice is don’t do it! If you find climbing the corporate ladder more appealing, then do that instead. It’s a respectable path. If you enjoy working 9 to 5pm, with predictable lunch breaks, and tweeting about your latest leisurely excursions during coffee breaks, then don’t leave the comfort of your job. If there is anything else that you can do that will bring you satisfaction or “meaning" to your life, then pursue that instead. You’ll be better off in the long run. Seriously.
Now on the other hand, there are some of you that are inspired by an idea, some form of innovation or technology that could potentially change the world, advance our economy, or benefit mankind. It could be a medical device, or a drug, or a revolutionary process for precision farming. The very thought of taking something raw, refining it into a product, and taking it to market appeals to you. Furthermore, you feel impelled by a sense of duty to venture and take your idea to market. And ultimately you are more concerned about regretting that you did not pursue your idea than you are at failing altogether. If this describes you, then you just may be the next Charlottesville entrepreneur; one who proudly organizes and leads a venture with considerable initiative and risk; one that is, in principle, driven by creating economic value that ultimately benefits all.
This short blog reflects my experiences to date as a co-founder and member of an executive team of a startup that was recently acquired. Having participated in one form or another with a few startups since the mid-nineties, some successful and many not, I’ve learned that it is not for the risk averse or the faint of heart. The outcome is not guaranteed. It’s a labor of passion that requires persistence and determination. Becoming an entrepreneur is a lot like rappelling. It’s an intimidating descent; but, exhilarating. If you must, then throw yourself into it, and take the plunge. Happy rappelling!