Few things in life are as packed with emotion as hurtling down thestartup path just beyond the point of no return. Even the most con-tained entrepreneur feels like he or she has a tiny Archimedes inside,running with happy abandon. There is much to decide and do hun-dreds of tasks and questions, large and small. Underneath these prac-tical matters, the founder’s growing commitment to the venture ishelped along by a set of gathering forces. These forces have been inplay all along, like breezes blowing over the first flame of thefounder’s idea to keep it alive. But now that the point of no returnhas been reached, they are like winds blowing in from all directions,oxygenating and heating the growing fire.
THE BONDING POWER OF CREATION
Leaders all over the world wrestle with the challenge of getting theirteam members to care deeply about the goals of a larger organization.They don’t understand how employees who are disengaged and ap-athetic at work can show fanatical passion in their personal lives, or-ganizing citywide fund-raisers on weekends or maintaining Facebookpages with thousands of friends. A core principle is at work here: Weauthentically commit to those things that we have a direct role increating. Whether it’s a product prototype or a new client account, Iown what I create.
The same principle applies to your entrepreneurial venture. Asyou move from idea to action, creating something that can be read,seen, held, tested, or enjoyed in the world, your commitment naturallystrengthens. Whether lines of code, a new bank account, a businessplan, or a napkin sketch, every new work product puts extra wind inyour sails and amplifies your energy and ownership.
Lynn Ivey’s dream was becoming more tangible throughout thesummer of 2006, and her optimism was contagious. Everyone she en-countered came away with a clear, positive picture of The Ivey. Theycould envision the future building and its staff; they could see a hun-dred satisfied clients and their relieved families. As a result of her en-thusiasm and communication skills, Lynn successfully raised $2.6 million in seed money from investors and secured $3.6 million in loansto finance construction of the center. Groundbreaking was scheduledfor October. In late July, she sent an e-mail to several of her supporters,writing, “The money’s raised and in the bank!! The loan’s approvedand closing is at 9:30 a.m. this Tuesday!!”
About that same time, Lynn’s father called and asked her if shewould make the four-hour drive home to Wilmington. “He’s puttingMom on oxygen,” she wrote at the time. “He says she is really windingdown and thinks she’ll be getting worse soon. It’s ironic… my motheris the whole reason I started down this path to create the center. If sheshuts down now, it will be as if she knows that phase one of my cre-ation is complete and that it really will happen. I’m a believer thatwhen God shuts a door, he always opens a window.”
BELIEFS MADE REAL
Why do we commit to certain business ideas and not others? Howdo our beliefs become so rock solid that they are virtually impossibleto dislodge? Most businesspeople think of commitment as an intan-gible force. They know it when they feel it, but don’t see any under-lying mechanisms to explain how something so “soft” actually works.But research into how the brain works sheds considerable light onthe fact that such mechanisms not only exist at a neurological level,they exert great power as well.
In a 2007 study, neurologist Sam Harris and two collaborators in-vestigated the role of various brain regions and structures in mediatingour beliefs. They measured how long it took people to judge writtenstatements as “true,” “false,” or “undecidable,” and they scanned theirsubjects’ brains during the process using functional magnetic reso-nance imaging (fMRI). They found that people assessed statementsas believable more quickly than they judged statements to be false orundecidable, and that the different types of statements were processedin distinct regions of the brain. In short, new information that matchesour existing perceptions gets an “express lane” treatment, whereas contradictory information takes a longer, more tortuous processingpath.
Because the brain appears to process false or uncertain state-ments in regions linked to pain and disgust,” the researchers wrote,“this research supports [the seventeenth century philosopher] Spin-oza’s conjecture that most people have a low tolerance for ambiguityand that belief comes quickly and naturally, whereas skepticism is slowand unnatural.
Researchers have also found that deep levels of passion create sig-nificant changes in the brain, changes that, in turn, reinforce the verybeliefs that created them. Andrew Newberg, M.D., director of theCenter for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylva-nia, has studied the brain’s role in spirituality and written extensively about the topic.
He and his collaborators have scanned the brains ofhundreds of religious practitioners (Franciscan nuns engaged inprayer, meditating Buddhists, Pentecostal followers speaking intongues), documenting how beliefs become neurologically real in the minds of practitioners. He even scanned the brain of an avowed athe-ist, who was asked to attempt to pray to God, and concluded that whena person is asked to adopt beliefs contrary to his own, the brain oftenapplies the brakes, so to speak. “If the pieces don’t fit well together, aneurological dissonance is created that sends an alarm to otherprocesses in the brain.
With each passing day, Lynn Ivey found more reasons to believe.In November 2006, a month after her mother passed away from com-plications related to her dementia, she received an e-mail from awoman who had read about The Ivey in a local magazine. “You do notknow how much I have prayed for someone like you,” the womanwrote, going on to share that her husband was declining due to a re-cent, massive stroke, and she was entering her own battle with breastcancer. “Please tell me that you will be open soon and that there issome availability. Could you send me some information? Lynn, youare a GOD SEND! I had always thought a higher-class daycare wouldbe a great thing to do. If you need any help at all, I would love to helpout, but first I need you to OPEN!”
YOUR FEEL-GOOD GANG
The entrepreneur’s path can be crushingly lonely. New foundersmust find and haul their own motivational fuel, building their storeof inner resources. At the same time, nearly all successful entrepre-neurs find support and encouragement from their social network offriends, family, colleagues, and advisers. One of our earliest instinctsduring the incubation phase is to share our idea with trusted friendsand colleagues, people who can act as sounding boards and whomight caution us about unseen obstacles or problems. Mostly, wehope they will reinforce our idea, confirm the rightness of our path,and cheer us onward.
On this last hope, the news is all good. Studies investigating theimpact of social networks on the formation of new ventures suggestthat when a founder seeks support and advice for a new venture, heor she taps a small number of well-known, trusted, and like-mindedindividuals.8And social psychological research has confirmed again and again that we are an unfailingly polite species when asked for anykind of evaluative feedback.
In one intriguing study conducted by psy-chologists Bella DePaulo and Kathy Bell in 1996, test subjects wereput in the difficult situation of critiquing an artist’s paintings for whichthey had already privately expressed a dislike. They had never metthe artist or known of the artist’s work. Nearly everyone was hesitantto say anything that might discourage the artist or give rise to hurtfeelings; the most blatant white lies coming from people who had beentold that the artist cared deeply about a particular painting.
The upshot of this and other studies is that the more openly weshare our passion for our new venture, the more likely it is that wewill receive support and encouragement, not only from the usual sus-pects—trusted friends and family—but from just about anyone whocan see our enthusiasm for the business idea. Lynn Ivey talked withhundreds of people within and outside the senior care industry as sheformulated plans for The Ivey, and she found nearly universal supportfor her concept for an upscale daycare center located in the Charlotte,North Carolina, area. With a few exceptions (to be explored in laterchapters), “Your center will fill up in no time,” was the common re-frain, she heard from industry professionals, investors, and old friendsalike.
THE WIDE WORLD OF MOTIVATION
It’s Saturday morning. You’ve decided to finally do something aboutthat gnawing feeling of settling for someone else’s dreams. Today isthe day you seize control. Coffee in hand, you flip open your laptopand Google the word entrepreneurship. The first featured link at thetop of the page catches your eye. It reads “Easily Started Businesses.”You click on it and see, in forty-point font.
RENEGADE PHYSICIST DISCOVERS 57 SECRET IDEASTHAT COULD MAKE YOU RICH!
Welcome to the Motivational Media. If you haven’t fully con-vinced yourself that your business idea has potential, or if you doubtyou can pull it off, just turn on the TV, open an entrepreneurial magazine, or surf the Web. You’ll find a thousand smiling entrepreneurs,posing in front of swimming pools and Maseratis, eager to tell youhow they did it and bring you into their startup fold.
You will beamazed at how happy and proud they are, and how many there are.You can watch the Y.E.S. movie (by the Young Entrepreneur Society),starring white-toothed motivational speakers. You can surf entrepre-neurial comment boards, where fellow dreamers decry “negative and unsupportive people.” You can peruse a Start Your Own Business mag-azine with a hundred get-rich-quick schemes. And you can read a re-cent book encouraging the younger generation to go ahead and makethe entrepreneurial leap, offering advice like, “Don’t worry if you don’tknow what you’re doing. Nobody does!”
Plenty of worthy information does exist for aspiring entrepre-neurs, if you can cut through all the noise and clutter (I have includeda listing of my favorite sources in Appendix B at the end of the book).It seems, however, that the following themes dominate most of thestartup content floating around these days: (1) Starting a business ofyour own is the surest way to happiness and wealth, (2) Everybody’sdoing it, or will, (3) Ignore nay-sayers who don’t support your dream,and (4) The only thing holding you back is . . . you!
There is one more theme. Most of these sources of encourage-ment have a strong commercial interest in your taking the entrepre-neurial plunge. Their mantra: “You can do it—we can help!” Myfavorite example comes from a 2007 promotional campaign from In-tuit, maker of small business accounting software. Its stated purposewas to move aspiring entrepreneurs from saying, “I wish I had juststarted my own business…” to saying, “I just started my own business!”It was called the “Just Start” campaign and hosted at bundet.com.
The campaign was Intuit’s response to survey data, col-lected from a paid vendor, suggesting that four out of five workingadults in the United States dream of starting their own business someday (with no mention, of course, of the high percentage of startupsthat fail). It’s not clear how many aspiring business owners “juststarted” a business as a result of the campaign or how many softwareproducts were sold as a result, but the campaign surely stoked thestartup fires among thousands of founders in waiting.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM THE UNIVERSE
Students of religion, philosophy, or self-help will note that the mo-tivational atmosphere around entrepreneurship has a familiar ring.It mostly parallels historical traditions that encourage self-discoveryand self-improvement. Celebrated U.S. mythologist and writer JosephCampbell reminded us that the powerful theme “Follow Your Bliss”resonates through ancient stories and myths of all cultures.
Like-wise, adherents of The Law of Attraction, a positive thinking conceptpopularized in 2007 in the movie and book The Secret—and one thatproliferated quickly through the you-can-do-it blogosphere—datesback to the world’s earliest societies.
One of the most well-known passages ever written on the topicof commitment was attributed to the nineteenth-century Germanwriter Goethe, who wrote “Whatever you can do or dream, you cando, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin itnow.”11I was influenced by this passage during the 1990s, as I preparedto quit my salaried position (as a husband and a father of a six-month-old girl) to start an independent consulting practice. And I’ve sharedsimilar materials with my clients from time to time, bringing relevanthistorical wisdom to the challenges of today.
The point here is that optimism travels well, and it has done soacross the ages. It’s as if some god of startups has been active all along,century after century, provoking fervent belief and bold action amongmerchants, traders, dreamers, and adventurers of all stripes. If you arelooking to find encouragement and further stoke your passion for yournew venture, material is readily available from all directions, all cen-turies, day or night.