… eating glass, staring into the abyss

I was talking to my friend Mark van Harmelen of Hedtek (of whom more in a later post) about setting off on this path, and he gave me this quote from Elon Musk;

Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.

This was meant kindly, of course; did I really want to put myself in this position, this level of stress?

There are two parts to a response to this; firstly, do I believe that this really what it’s like?

Truthfully, I can’t say that I know – but Elon Musk, having founded some fairly ambitious enterprises, should know. One can imagine levels of intensity going up as important targets loom and investors pile on pressure. Also, as I put more effort and thought into all the various aspects of our project, it becomes more personal, its success or failure more about me, the project embodying more and more of my creative energy, its character and direction the result of choices I have made. Add to that the dependence of other people on the project’s success, and it isn’t hard to imagine it getting heavy.

The second part of the response is – do I want to put myself in that position? Could I cope with it – and I think I have a clearer understanding of this, and one that gives me confidence, which comes from the experience of being responsible for the commitment (essentially as a one-man-band) of six figure sums of other people’s money into the construction of something as immutable and one-shot-only as a construction project.

As Frank Lloyd Wright said;

A doctor can bury his mistakes – but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.

Which is to say that a failed construction project doesn’t vanish into the ground, but persists in a highly visible manner;

Edificio Mirador, SpainThere are many websites dedicated to presenting lists of ‘ugliest buildings’, which are voted for by readers and described in vicious and unrestrained terms, without any apparent interest in the whys and wherefores. Famous and successful architects are not immune to this sort of public judgement (often entirely justified IMHO).

By contrast, failed tech startups used to get documented by fuckedcompany.com, but no longer: it has folded. As its home page says;

Fuckedcompany is… fucked.

A search for ‘tech startup failures’ does bring up a site called ‘10 greatest startup failures‘, but reading through the list it is clear that no personal or aggressive criticism is intended. Indeed other results on the first page of search results include several lists whose purpose is considered analysis of the issues that resulted in failure – intended as part of a reasonable and constructive debate.

So, while a failed startup is no doubt an intense and distressing experience, there is an acknowledgement that it was a human endeavour; note that the failures are described as the ‘greatest’, not as the ‘most pathetic ‘.

Having survived the slow and deeply painful collapse of the small and idealistic school that my wife and I founded, an experience that took over a year, as well as some fairly brutal crunch points on construction sites, I am fairly confident in my ability to soak up the pressure that being a tech entrepreneur might bring.

Of course, only time will tell, but while being grateful for Mark’s consideration, I am not yet deterred.

Wish us luck!

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