Below is a picture of me late Tuesday evening. I’m elbow-deep in grease replacing the alternator in my Mustang. I’ll spare you and just go ahead and skip over all the crap and get right to the meat and potatoes – the reason why I’ve been itching to write this piece for some time.
In the last few years I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs eager to change the world and do the next greatest thing. Most of them have great ideas, lots of ambition, and they all say they want it as bad as the next – they want the life of an entrepreneur. (In case you didn’t read my gritty answer on Quora about startup failure or the article I wrote for TheNextWeb, I encourage you to do so and reshape the picture you have in your head of entrepreneurship.) For this particular post, I’m not going to talk about side-stepping mistakes or write tips to better your odds for success. For this post, I’m going to talk about something that aspiring entrepreneurs are not taught in startup school – responsibility.
I can count on one hand how many of the entrepreneurs I’ve met that have or even know how to turn a wrench, mow a lawn, or wash their own freaking laundry. I can also probably count on one hand how many of these same entrepreneurs have had to earn money by flipping burgers, washing dishes, or selling phones at Best Buy. I don’t care how much funding you have, how great you can write code, the growth of your user base, the names in your portfolio, or your 4-letter domain name – none of it qualifies you or can begin to prepare you for running a company. It sickens me when I talk to entrepreneurs who I can tell have zero sense of responsibility to their employees, investors, and customers. These just happen to be the same kids who… *gasp*… don’t know how to do anything for themselves – it’s like they’re playing pretend with fire.
In my opinion a true sense of responsibility comes from real life experiences, usually away from computer and TV screens. For example, I can promise you that when I screwed up $4000 worth of product at my first “real” job, I was made perfectly clear of the responsibility I had to my boss. I can also promise you that when I was just 19 and had to let go (aka fire) an employee who was older than me and had three kids, I learned responsibility that comes only from being someone’s “boss”. Lastly, I can promise you that when I maxed my credit cards and depleted my checking and savings accounts for the sake of my recent startup – in my first year of marriage – I learned exactly what it really meant to be responsible for someone other than myself.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying in order for you to be a successful entrepreneur and have the chops necessary to run a business you need to go to college, get a job, work for the man, and fire someone. I’m simply saying that there’s more to it than what popular tech media describes it to be – it has a lot to do with YOUR responsibility to your PEOPLE. For me, my first and most important responsibility is to my wife and family – to ensure we have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and reliable transportation. There’s nothing like making a decision about something knowing it can greatly affect someone else, and sometimes you just risk it – but you risk it having a good idea of the consequences. When you’re 18 riding by the seat of your pants and living in your parents basement, you’ll make choices differently than you will when you’re a bit older, married, and have children.
So, how can you earn this sense of responsibility without getting married or having babies? Power down, go outside, and do something for someone else.
Tuesday evening I learned an important lesson about bootstrapping. I learned that if I absolutely had to have my car to get to work and fulfill my responsibility to my employer but I absolutely did not have the money to have it fixed or the friends who knew how, I had to fix it myself. Put yourself in this position and without mommy’s basement to move back in to and I promise you’ll earn your right to lead.
Have a question? Disagree? Want to exchange pleasentries? Leave a comment below. As always, you can reach me on Twitter @joshuahays or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org