There is no application for entrepreneurship. (and I hope there never is.)
There are applications in many areas of our lives. School. Politics. Driving. Grad School. Post-grad school. MBA. JD. MD. PhD. And heck - even Love (eHarmony).
And of course there are!
I mean - would you want some random person adopting your kid or performing heart surgery? No! I wouldn’t either. I would want someone vetted. Someone screened and screened again.
But there is one thing that there is no. application. for.
Starting a company.
At least in America. If you are a citizen who is not a criminal, who can afford a very small fee, you’re good to go. Success - we can never be sure of that, but when were we ever?
Why all the exclamation points and strong language out of my usual moderately peaceful web-self? Because I feel so so so strongly about this. It comes from a place of one primary experience augmented by many others.
In 2010, 2 friends came to me to start a company. It was destined to gain at the very least significance, though we didn’t actually know that. We were all finishing college, and so we decided to take advantage of programs meant to encourage entrepreneurship: MIT $100K, MassChallenge, Y-Combinator.
NOW. Before I go on - do NOT get me wrong. I love these things. If you’re here to help entrepreneurs in a non-sketchy way, you’re doing alright in my book. Better than alright - you’re doing good. (not well - good is what you are actually engendering.)
Back to the story.
We applied and applied until we were blue in the face. And it pushed us to think, which was good. What is our business about? Do people really want this? Surveys? How do we do those? Who with? How do I pitch this? And we got some things - office space for the summer in MIT’s entrepreneurship center - which at the time, consisted of Bill Aulet just saying, “Guys, this is great! You want office space?” Two weeks left to go before graduation, he saved us from the spectre of working from my buddy’s fraternity.
But what about all those other prestigious entrepreneurship competitions that the ‘right’ startups win? (you see where I’m going here.)
We didn’t. Not for a good long while anyway. (we did end up coming back a year later and absolutely beasting MassChallenge - they were helping us out even before though - I love them.)
But for a solid year + our friends and networks loved us, but we got no love from APPLICATIONS. What’s more? That, and pivoting one too many times without everyone full-time cost us our 3rd hand (as well as many other reasons, of course.) And that’s OK. It didn’t feel good for us either. Because no-one likes rejection. Getting told no a lot and growing a thick skin, doesn’t mean I don’t like it either. I enjoy winning. And we all do.
But rejection - they tell me - is a part of life. And it is also a part of starting something new. Especially if it’s disruptive. *Note: I am very early in my career, so if I sound preach-y please forgive me. If I ever sound preach-y, please forgive me.
But all along, there was that small speck of a really optimistic voice that said, “F. you” to the ‘failures’ and ‘rejections’. It told me that the experience of getting told No would toughen me and us up. That it would push us to innovate when we were hungry. That it would make me ‘angry’. The same kind of ‘anger’ (read: indignant motivation) that got me into MIT after being deferred.
I refused to believe and I now know for a fact: There is no application for entrepreneurship.
Absolutely, no one predicted our success on Kickstarter last summer. Who knew? MIT dress shirts? Really?!! Not an app! (I’ve got nothing against apps; we were just outlandish is all).
But why am I talking about this at all? Because, being only 2 years out of college, I talk to a lot of students (or at least I try - I love talking to people about opportunities that they want to/ are going after.) And too often, I have been hearing one thing.
I’ll do a startup…. IF I get into [MassChallenge, YC, Techstars, $100K, my grandfather’s pension fund, etc.]
I threw that last one in to show how ludicrous that statement is. ARE these good sources? Yes! Why not! You want some more opportunity - of course! But should this prohibit you from pursuing your dream, your passion, your desire to create in an unabashed, crazy, insane, way?
NEVER. Yes. You need to eat. Yes. You need to have a basic place to work (if you have employees) - if not you might just work at Starbucks, or a school, or library. My favorite price is $0.00.
Please never let a single ‘No’ stop you from pursuing your dreams. The history of startups is riddled with those who had the door slammed in their face over and over again before finding a Yes. The 2nd biggest IPO ever was Alibaba.com. Their iconic CEO/Founder Jack Ma (马云) was a former English teacher ranting about this thing called the internet. Dozens of investors turned him down. He was starting one of the first internet companies in China. What was the internet anyway? And isn’t China communist?
All inspiration aside - though it is inspiring - the mantra remains the same. The only true application for startups is whether or not people find what you’re doing useful.
And the startup’s name is Ministry of Supply. We recently made the NYTimes Business Section. Because we didn’t let an absence of approval stop us. Because we found the people that did believe in us. And ultimately, those competitions came around.
I believe that there is good feedback in all of these interactions. I don’t believe that a lack of risk ‘mitigation’ should prevent people from taking big risks such as starting a company. If you want to start a company, don’t wait for me or any singular person to tell you yes.
Go for it. Prove us all wrong. And please - if you want to be an entrepeneur - be an entrepreneur. We’re all excited for your next company.