At the risk of sounding a bit immature and crass I’d like to present my secret entrepreneurial silver bullet: brass balls. Or more eloquently put: vision, confidence and irrational optimism. Okay great, where does one procure said balls? You grow them over time. Why do you see serial entrepreneurship and why do these entrepreneurs often have repeat success? They grew balls and managed to not get castrated by the stress of running an unproven business, in an unproven market, with an unproven team. Here’s how they grew them:
Are you awesome? It’s hard to know in an unproven market. This is why it’s imperative to look at hard data numbers. Concentrate on improving one or two data points at a time. Don’t try to improve everything at once, you just don’t have the resources and by moving multiple variables around it’s going to be impossible to get an accurate read on our business. The secret to growing balls through data is to make sure it’s going up and to the right. If your data points are improving then your’e doing something right. This will give you confidence to continue. Down and to the right or flatlining is death. If this happens, you’ll need some other help to grow your balls so you can keep moving forward without shutting down the business.
You’re doing something that has never been done. This can be lonely when the self-doubt creeps in, so it’s a must to have a support network around you. It’s a huge plus to have the support of your family and friends. Ideally, they support your decision to quit your job, pursue a different path and work 18 hour days. But be warned, they’re usually too nice and won’t give you the tough love you also need.
This is where mentors and advisors come in. Pick your mentors and advisors based on people that have big balls and success. There’s a lot of advisor out there that are more than willing to tell you why you’ll fail based on their experience with failure. Failing isn’t bad and you don’t need people to blow smoke up your ass but you don’t need haters and naysayers. You need mentors and advisors that can help draw out the talent and help focus you from the distractions.
Investors are also great. They want you to succeed and have an amazing reference point to other companies like you. If you’re struggling and need some balls to power through a rough patch, check in with your investors, they’ve been there.
The last and perhaps most important group are your co-workers. Running a start-up is a team sport and in any team sport you need each other to get the win.
Internal Self Belief
This is what most people rely on. This can be dangerous because we all have self-doubts, that’s just a reality that everyone deals with. So it’s important to get some wins under your belt. Set out some attainable goals and crush them. Then build on that. No one knows what they’re doing in a start-up but they believe they can get there. This self-awareness and ability to constantly pick yourself up and try again is a rare skill. If you got it then you’re further ahead than most.
Some say that you have to have gone to Havard or Stanford to raise a Series A, bullshit but it helps. Not so much because of the school but because having the best education can help your balls. I went to NYU, a premiere school, and I have two other degrees including a Masters. These have nothing to do with business but it does prove to me that I’m not a total screw-up and that I should have the intelligence to figure out some difficult problems in the industry I’m disrupting. If it’s not school than maybe it’s another business that you’ve succeeded in or something in your life that was difficult that you came out the other side on. The more you put big obstacles in your own path, over-come them, the more your balls will grow.
Make sure you have a strong internal motivation to make your business succeed. If your motivation is money, that’s external. You can’t always control external factors so if your vision and drive can’t be controlled then it’s hard to have that internal drive, motivation, and balls.
This isn’t really the place to get into the why MBAs suck as entrepreneurs but it’s mostly because they’re trained to mitigate risk, don’t screw up and climb the ladder. This is the exact opposite of ballsy entrepreneurial behaviour. Lots of people will give advice on how not to fail (according to their zero knowledge of your venture) but few will tell you to grow bigger balls. And that’s really what it comes down to. Good luck growing a pair.