Principal Consultant, Career OverDrive!
Author's Note: Given the continuing and deepening interest in both entrepreneurial endeavors and entrepreneurial career paths, I thought it would be valuable to again revisit how both the entrepreneur's and the Outsider's (non-entrepreneur's) viewpoints of the same events greatly diverge. I further elected to use a bootstrapped entrepreneur rather than a well-funded or well-financed entrepreneur as these divergent views become even more pronounced when you compard the bootstrapped entrepreneur with the Outsider.
One of the hardest things for any entrepreneur to understand, and this is especially true for bootstrapped entrepreneurs, is that their efforts, however grueling currently, do not and will not always follow a linear growth path.....provided they work smart enough (strategically and tactically) and relentlessly enough, because at some point, there will be an inflection point where their current linear growth curve (built using the block and tackle approach) shifts to a non-linear growth curve (built using pneumatic cranes, best practices, operated by talented and trained staff).
At the same time, while this is very hard for many bootstrapped entrepreneurs to understand, it is almost impossible for those coming from outside of an entrepreneurial mindset to understand let alone appreciate.
To the Outsider (the non-entrepreneur), this is why all super successful entrepreneurs and especially boot-strapped entrepreneurs are simply "lucky" when they become rich or wealthy.....because from the outside, to the Outsider it appears that way.
To the Entrepreneur, there are numerous "pivots" to find the right product-market fit and to do so as quickly as possible...To find and fine tune the business model. To find and fine tune the operational model and processes. But "quickly" is a relative term as those raised in today's Cut 'N Paste Culture with a One-Pill Solution mentality may define "quickly" as within a week or weekend. Meanwhile, the bootstrapped entrepreneur must demonstrate the mental strength of the long distance runner along with the agile footwork of an indigenous Amazonian bush hunters, shifting between the two modes on the fly. And when it is not possible to quickly ascertain product-market fit or perhaps a new recipe (which is almost always the case), they will have to persevere for years until they have that "overnight" "lucky" Eureka Moment. The proverbial Overnight Success that was 10 years in the making.
To the Outsider, there are only "fuck ups" and "train wrecks" - which may be fast and violent or unfold in slow motion. To the Outsider, all entrepreneurial train wrecks are a delicious validation that the ballsy entrepreneur is no better than and, in fact, less competent, less skilled, less intelligent than the Outsider. Of course, this is all simply internal dialog and a psychological defense mechanism employed by the Outsider to shield him or her from the Entrepreneur's blow to the Outsider's ego. Why? Because to the Outsider, the definite, relentless and often ballsy actions of the entrepreneur, especially boot-strapped entrepreneur spotlight the laziness or cowardice of the Outsider. Any subsequent success by the entrepreneur, therefore, magnifies the fear, weakness and lack of skill held by the Outsider. This is why the Outsider will spend more effort to derail another entrepreneur's quest for success than to work on their own quest for success and self-improvement. An entrepreneur's "failure" allows the Outsider to arrogantly and smugly pontificate, "Of course, he/she failed. Any moron knew that. I could have done the same (and most likely failed) but at least I'm smart enough not to blow my time, money and energy in such a sure-fire failure." Success by the entrepreneur in such a situation, however, will lead the Outsider to simply protect himself or herself by instantly and reflexively proclaiming, "How fucking lucky can you get?".
To the bootstrapped entrepreneur, the amount of time poured into a project continues to increase and accelerate as does the amount or at least percentage of capital which must be re-invested, often while the actual revenues dwindle or if revenues remain steady, net profits decline. In effect, there is an inverse relationship of time and capital invested set against revenues generated. The more time and capital invested to find product-market fit and then prepare to nail and scale it, the more flaccid or tepid the revenues generated will be.
That is critical to understand. Read that again. :)
To the Outsider, this lack of large revenue streams, this lack of large net profits, this risk taking with reinvestment of capital and the brutal necessity of hard work is simply "proof of failure".
In the later stages of the venture (some time after traction is established and before the coveted "escape velocity" occurs), the bootstrapped entrepreneur will hopefully finally "nails it and scales it". And yet this most often only occurs after having survived and thrived in the Crucible. The result of this unforgiving blast-furnace process is a landscape strewn with ruined relationships, lost friends, acrimonious divorces and devastating personal bankruptcies...and yet survivors emerge......But through this process the survivors are changed. Their finished product may not be a service as they original envisioned but product or platform. Or the originally envisioned market may be completely different -- in other words everything might have and probably must have changed remarkably if not completely during this Crucible process.
From this point on, all of the entrepreneur's efforts are focused (or should be) on executing towards a particular market with a particular product or service offering /lineup. As more and more revenues are generated with less and less friction and shorter and shorter sales cycles and time bridges, and as the company moves first from "profitability" to a "cash flow positive" and pours back these monies into the company (to serve as both working capital and capital expenditures / Capex) more and more financial, technological and operational leverage is generated and applied. And with that, the revenue generated is able to explodes upward yet again.
And so it grows. And continues to grow.
To the Outsider, this is proof positive that the bootstrapped entrepreneur in question got flat out lucky and has the proverbial "horse shoe up their ass".
Yet for those that know, for those in the know, for those that can analyze and understand, and move beyond the Myths and Memes, nothing could be further from the truth.
The entrepreneur overcame the seemingly impossible;
By knowing when to zig and knowing when to zag.
By knowing when to shelter in place and knowing when to flat out run like hell.
By knowing when to flow like water, around and over things and by knowing when to morph into a bulldozer or a runaway freight train, laden with iron ore, barreling full-speed down the mountainside and on fire, crushing and breaking and overcoming anything in its path as it rapidly continues its relentless quest for success.
This is something that the Outsider, that almost no Outsider can ever understand. They can never learn, never comprehend these truths.
And the final truth that the Outsider cannot understand is that he/she, the envious, jealous, insecure individual is the exact reason why the now wealthy, self-made entrepreneur has opted to build a large and high fence as envy and ignorance is not something the successful Entrepreneur wishes in his or her life.