Entrepreneur Beginners Guide
“Don’t Waste Time”
Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.
—Victor Kiam, entrepreneur; former owner, New England Patriots
I had lunch recently with one of my mentees who just graduated from college. Now that school is occupying less of his time, he wanted to meet and get some guidance about what to do next. He and a couple of his friends from college started a company over a year ago that finally seemed to be gaining some traction.
Although he has great potential, my mentee disappointed me with his lack of effort and sense of urgency. During our meeting, he asked me mostly the same questions he asked during our last meeting eleven months ago. He took thorough notes from that meeting, but had made no progress toward following any of the crucial steps I suggested to propel his business forward. In fact, he had done absolutely nothing of major significance. He offered no valid excuses for his lack of progress, putting his head down and repeating, “Yeah. I have to get moving.” Frustrated, I simply gave him the same information from before and admonished him to follow immediately the advice I gave him. I am afraid that my words went in one ear and out the other.
After our two-hour meeting, I began to think about what his poor follow-through and hesitation meant. To better understand, I recalled how I felt about pursing my entrepreneurial endeavors while in college and shortly after graduating. My sense of urgency to create a profitable business was almost an obsession. Some people would say it was indeed an obsession, as I was always running home to code and to add a feature to my website. I didn’t have time for anything else except for doing the necessary tasks to move my business forward. School, a demanding girlfriend, and the desire to hang out with my friends were no obstacle for me. I made it happen regardless of the circumstances. I certainly wasn’t going to wait around and do nothing. Even as I worked hard on growing my company, I felt like time was slipping away, like a competitor was just waiting for me to make a mistake.
The best entrepreneurs create environments of stressful urgency. Entrepreneurs know that startup’s rarely get anything done in a relaxed, take-your-time environment. For example, Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple, was notorious for pushing his team beyond its limits by setting seemingly unrealistic timelines. As a result, his company created products quicker than they had ever imagined was possible and thus gained a huge competitive advantage over rival companies like IBM.
Doctors and psychologists believe that stress caused by time constraints or urgency has an upside. In fact, they argue that we all need stress in our lives to perform certain tasks at a high level, ranging from avoiding a car accident to finishing a report for work. A recent MSNBC.com article explored the benefits of stress: “When the brain perceives physical or psychological stress, it starts pumping the chemicals cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine into the body. Instantly, the heart beats faster, blood pressure increases, senses sharpen, a rise in blood glucose invigorates us and we’re ready to rock.” The article also quoted Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “When you have a deadline, when you have to perform, you want some stress to help you do your best.”
If you lack the sense of urgency to grow your business, evaluate why you want to be in business. Perhaps you are not passionate about the business idea. Maybe your subconscious tells you that the idea isn’t worth pursuing. Maybe the idea isn’t yours and you feel no allegiance to it, or maybe you lack the self-discipline to be an entrepreneur. Whatever the reason, your lack of enthusiasm is not a good sign.
Before our meeting ended, my mentee gave me a clue as to why he called the meeting even if it seemed he hadn’t been making progress. He revealed that he had to make money to support himself soon and that he had been offered a decent job that he doesn’t necessarily want to take. I had a much better understanding of his circumstance and his sudden sense of urgency. It was telling concluded the meeting by reiterating that he should be working harder than ever to grow his company because time is running out. However, experience and entrepreneurial intuition tell me that he will end up getting a job working for someone else. He wasted too much valuable time.