I’ve been asked a lot lately by my friends in corporate America what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. Here’s what I say to them:
Entrepreneurship is a beautiful French model whose name you cannot spell correctly (that’s right, we’ve all had trouble spelling it). She excites you. You want to go on dates with her, but she’ll make you work for it. Just when you think you’ve made progress with her, you find out she’s dating three other men more handsome and successful than you. She keeps you up at night because you can’t stop thinking about how YOU can be better, make yourself better, and strategize your future dates. You want to live in this very moment, the only moment you think matters, but you have to make sure you can please her in the future (I call this the "French Model Retention Paradigm”). And once you think you “have” her, you realize you actually don’t. It’s either that or you “get” her and the fun dies. My friends laugh, until they realize there’s some truth to what I’m saying.
Yes, I’ve been thinking intensely about what it means and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Especially recently. You see there are many people today who think the entrepreneur’s life is one of fame, glory, a little hard work, and a lot of upside potential. But there's a hauntingly darker side to the entrepreneur’s reality. Recently, my venture RaDEant Tech (founded by Kristen Perhach, Tony Mammana-Lupo, and myself through UIC's Technology Ventures Program) prepped for University of Nebraska Lincoln’s (UNL) business plan competition (they probably have 13 different fancy names for this competition; unfortunately I can’t remember any of them), and put in COUNTLESS hours to prepare for this. It was like going on a third date with our French supermodel, and you know what that means: we expected to get lucky. We’d been approaching our business from three sides: our technology, early adopter acquisition, and investor relations. And we’ve made MAJOR advancements in all three areas. We were stoked. We were confident. We had a short video!
We had even been able to practice and rehearse everything dozens of times. We vetted our presentation with SEVERAL mentors and advisors, including Professor Rod Shrader, Faculty Director of the Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies and Professor of the famed Technology Ventures Program at UIC. Our team felt closer than ever, sharing laughs over the ridiculous things we did and cries over the long days and nights of preparation. At a classy hotel dinner with startup community members present, I ate a single salad comprised of lettuce, carrots, Mexican deserts, Oreos, and chocolate sauce dressing (go ahead, judge me, I’m proud of it...it's the dinner of champions). Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but we all thought, “hmm, this is our Interim CEO.” We met new characters and laughed with them over the comical and dumb things they did, too. We were ebullient, we were ready, and we were proud.
It’s now been a week since it was announced we weren’t advancing to the final rounds at UNL. As you could imagine, there was much disappointment. But for all the entrepreneurs or folks supporting entrepreneurs reading this, it’s extremely important to move on and do it quickly. Take the criticism. Digest it and learn from it. Motivate each other, move on, and BE BETTER. There is no middle ground with a startup. BE THE BEST. Own the happy moments and learn from the low ones. I see every day all the ups and downs of dating a superficial French model with my company, RaDEant Tech. Last week, we entered pre-due diligence with a very respectable Boston VC firm, and at the same time we didn’t make it to the finals in Lincoln, NE. So yes, entrepreneurship is really a capricious jerk, but she can reward you in ways you’d never expect (like with the moments you have with your team you’ll be jealous of in ten years). You just have to hang in there long enough to see it.