What it takes to win in entrepreneurship?

“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”  — Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing about Hard Things

“There are two, and pretty much only two, emotions in startups:  total euphoria and abject terror.” — Marc Andreessen, congratulating me on co-founding my last company.

Read these quotes. Then re-read them. Then file them away somewhere and take them out periodically and read them again.  I’m not trying to deflate you, I am an optimist by nature.  But bear with me for a moment and please take my advice and, in the meantime, let me share a story.

I met a self-described entrepreneur once who is truly an extremely affable, smart, eloquent and enthusiastic young man.  He is, in fact, inspirational — his social networks filled with uplifting quotes, cheer-leading on startups, amazing photographs of giving TEDX talks here, panels there.  He is among the greatest networkers I have ever met not only in his massive quantity of contacts, but appearing quality.  He posts amazing photos, anyhow, of himself with some of the truly leading luminaries in Silicon Valley and around the world, even a few movie stars and government officials to boot.  He has been on the cover of a hip magazine.  He is, on top of this all, a great singer and is part of a rock band that has some startup hashtag as its name.

Here’s the thing:  he hasn’t done shit.

He has “started” or co-founded maybe three or four enterprises over the last six or seven years, describes them passionately as his life’s mission and then the next time I see him he’s onto something else.  People who worked with him told me everything was about him, and when things went wrong he always had someone on the team to blame.  He told me once over a few beers if he thought he could make a go of it, he’d be a rock star.  I learned recently he got himself into a decent business school and is now going to get an MBA.

I want to emphasize two things:

  1. He has some very natural gifts.
  2. If startups is his game, he’s in the wrong line of work.

There must be a thousand “why startups fail” pieces across the internet.  If you want the truly comprehensive guide to what it takes to win in entrepreneur — if not in any successful organization or life itself — you need nothing more than Ben Horowitz’s book.

I would only add here that commitment is everything:  steely focus; hyper obsession on an idea that makes someone’s life better, easier, faster, cheaper, more beautiful than it was before and they are willing, in some form, to pay for it; utter attention to taking friction out of anyone’s life and experiences; looking at hiring great talent as an opportunity of a life time to learn and win; to be of service to your team and your clients and the ecosystem; having the courage to keep coming no matter what slows you down but flexibility to take in data and feedback that may require you to shift; the character to make the tough decisions and treat people around you in the dark times as you’d hope they treat you; to spend every dollar as if it is your own (as often at first it is) and to end of achieving what I’ve written above.

In the context of the remarkable ecosystem in Egypt and the Middle East I’ve seen massive progress in leaps and bounds since I wrote Startup Rising and never has there been greater opportunity for serious entrepreneurs to make serious impact locally, regionally and beyond.    At the same time, as software and mobile become more universal still and startups are rising everywhere, never has there more opportunity and competition globally.

There is no road map to avoid failure outright in this life, and we have chosen a line of work where the deck is stacked against success mathematically.

So what?  If you truly want it in your teeth, can see yourself doing nothing else, can navigate the sinewaves of highs and lows — move!

And don’t confuse the unconference circuit and social acclamation for entrepreneurial impact.  They are usually diametrically opposed.

Christopher M. Schroeder

Venture Investor, Entrepreneur, Author, advisor and investor in interactive technologies and social communications. He is author of the recent best seller, and first book on startups in the Arab World, Startup Rising — The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East — with a forward by Marc Andreessen. He is speaking at the RiseUp Summit 2015 on Dec 12th on What Happened since Chris Schroeder wrote his Book and will also be on a key panel on Investment in the MENA Region.