Thomas Pendergast Vladeck home

A “Third Way” in Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is often portrayed as an endeavor in which the entrepreneur has to essentially go crazy to succeed. Extreme dedication, total distortion of the work/life balance, and very high risk are some of the hallmarks of our conception of starting a new business (or even more risky, starting a new business with a new business model or product).

Moreover, entrepreneurs are pressured to maintain a totally positive face to the outside world about the state of their company. In San Francisco, “we’re killing it” is almost now an inside joke because of the ubiquity of that response when someone asks an entrepreneur how their company is faring. Most of these companies are not “killing it”, and the entrepreneurs probably know that.

It’s actually almost folk-wisdom that this quality (believing your company is “killing it” at all times) is a necessary mental quality for an entrepreneur. If they could be completely honest with themselves, the thinking goes, they would never be able to face the consistent stream of failures and setbacks without giving up. But maintaining this facade is hard, and it only makes the risks higher; a less than satisfactory end result now means abrogating promises and not meeting expectations that you yourself helped create. 

One has to think that there is a way to run a company that doesn’t exact such a toll. Leaders in the field of startup management, especially Eric Reis, have outlined new ways of thinking about starting a new business that permit new ways of behaving. Instead of being deterministic (i.e., the entrepreneur is in control of what the company will be and do, and effort will determine success) and linear (i.e., there is constant progress towards success), most startups are nondeterministic (you may succeed but you will not control how) and nonlinear (you will experience small failures constantly until you succeed, perhaps wildly). Deterministic/linear thinkers (or those who perceive that others think that way) are under more pressure to maintain this facade relative to nondeterministic/nonlinear thinkers.

In all, I think there’s a different way to be an entrepreneur. One that encourages work/life balance. One that doesn’t demand a stark dissonance between your public face and private reality. One that recognizes and embraces the nonlinear nature of startups - i.e., that it’s ok not to be “killing it” all the time.