Connecting My Dots

This is an unusual blog post, because I rarely get this personal. Today, however, I want to share some secrets with you. This will likely no t be the most well-edited post on this blog, but bear with me if you would like to hear me speak my mind.

It has been sixteen months since I made the leap to start two businesses. It was not a sudden decision, but something I had in mind for a much longer time. Sixteen months ago I finally had all the right pieces for the puzzle.

This story is about having the right reason, passion, focus, timing, business partners, and a little bit of luck.

Reason

I believe that the key to success is neither a desire for wealth, nor wanting to get away from an annoying boss. Wealth is sometimes a result, but if it’s your goal then the road there will be much more boring, and you’ll focus on the horizon rather than the speed bumps straight ahead of you. Heck, you might crash.

If you just don’t want a boss, forget about it. You always have a boss. Be it your customer, or be it your shareholders. There’s always a boss, trust me.

If you just want to be rich you’ll be focused on solving your own “problem” (not having enough money) rather than the problems of others, and it’s solving real world problems that leads to success and wealth.

I decided to start a company (actually, two companies) because I wanted to be part of something new, something that will solve problems. I also wanted to leverage the experience I had gained in life, and build a company the way I believe it should be built.

I believed (and still do) that it should be possible to combine profitability, a fun and healthy work environment, good employee benefits, charitable work, and a business culture that rewards reaching common goals. Never forget that most companies are what the employees bring to the table. No people, no business. That’s true even for product companies. Less so, yes, but still true.

To sustain in the long term, you have to stay focused. If you don’t feel strongly about what you do, chances are you’ll get distracted and change focus along the way.

Passion

I don’t think you’ll be set up to succeed unless you focus on a line of business that truly interests you. It’s a plus if you’d work with it for free if nobody would pay you. Why? Because when you start something new you have to be prepared to work for nothing, or little, in the beginning. At a minimum it means getting less money. Financially, I still would have been better off being employed. It would have been a lot more comfortable too.

Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Do you need the icing on the cake, or is the cake enough to fill you up? Maybe you can sacrifice the icing to get to do what you really would like to do? If you’re a die-hard entrepreneur you’ll sacrifice the entire cake, but often sacrificing just the icing is enough.

I have made sacrifices to get to live the dream of being part of something new, and I have no regrets. I get to work with something I believe in, and something that qualifies as a hobby of mine. It’s worth it. Maybe it’s worth it to own less stuff if you get to do what you love? Think about it.

Cooperation

It’s not only important that you do things for the right reasons, it’s also important that you work with the right people. You shouldn’t always work with whoever is tossing the most money your way, because it may be better to opt for the better match with less money.

After all, you’ll likely have to live with your decision for a long time. A business partner/co-owner who understands you, gets along with you, and shares your goals will make your life a lot easier. It’ll also be more likely that you’ll succeed.

I didn’t want a business partner with a lot of cash but no passion. I advice you to look at the big picture. Maybe someone’s experience, knowledge, and skills are worth more than capital.

I discussed with several parties before settling on whom to found the companies with. You need to engage both brain and heart in your decision.

Lesson

What’s the best business school around? Life. It really is, and I’ll tell you why.

My parents have told me that I never nagged to get anything as a child. It’s true, I rarely even politely asked for anything. Instead I decided whether getting something was important, and if so how to get it. Don’t get me wrong, I got stuff. But that was my parents’ call, not mine.

Speaking of parents, the most intense, and soul-searching, experience I’ve had came from spending time with my father as his life was coming to an end due to cancer. I learned more about life, myself, and prioritization during a couple of weeks than I ever had before. I learned how to step up, how to let go, and what willpower can do.

My Dad lasted more than half a year despite doctors believing he had only a couple of weeks left. He fought. We all have our battles to fight in life. I learned so much during that time that I could write several chapters, if not an entire book, just on that topic.

Illnesses are not necessarily all bad. Yes, we all want to avoid them, and I’m no different. However, my Dad’s illness made me a stronger and wiser person, and my own struggles with health from time to time have made me a better leader. In fact, my businesses were largely born during a troubling hospital visit. You have to look ahead, and you have to take something bad and make it good. After all, what’s the alternative?

Age and education are not necessarily things that make you a better business leader. However, I have tried to work on most of the sides of business. I’ve worked for sales, marketing, customer service, and in other departments. I’ve worked as an employee. I’ve been a buyer, and I have been a seller. I have worked as a consultant. I can tell you one thing, if you have not worked, at some point, in the role of your potential clients, the risk is that you won’t fully understand their needs and behavior.

I have, like Steve Jobs, and many others, dropped out of university. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either. I do not like leaving things unfinished, but things happen for a reason. My reason for dropping out was love. In Canada. Due to travels, and distance, I lost the momentum in my studies. Now, these days it may be easier to study from a distance than it was back then.

When I dropped out, I got a job to pay for my bills. I only planned to stay for six months at that job, and had formally just taken a break from my studies. That plan backfired when some people at the company apparently saw potential in me and gave me a new role. Then a new role after some time. Then yet another role. I ended up working in many different positions before leaving the company.

Remember how I told you I didn’t ask for stuff as a kid? Well, I didn’t ask for those jobs either, but it so turned out that those jobs became sort of a paid business education. It all works out somehow. That’s what my Dad told me when he was sick. I guess he’s right.

In closing I have to say that there is an element of chance in life too. Chance can give you opportunities, difficulties, and illness. It’ll likely give you all of them at some point. It’s how you deal with them that can make a difference.

I’m not finished yet. I can, and will, still get better at what I do.

I will still make mistakes, and I will still learn.

I’m not perfect, nobody is. But I’m working at getting better. It’s called continuous improvement.

Now it’s time for you go look for strength, inspiration, and knowledge in the places you least expect to find it.

I wish you a wonderful journey!