Entrepreneurship is rugby
I studied entrepreneurship in college because the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is start a businesses. Some disruptions happen by accident, some are inevitable- but I wanted to reshape an industry with intention.
I’ll admit it was (and still is) a lofty goal, but with the rise of PayPal, Uber, Airbnb and the like- it didn’t seem impossible. Make no mistake- every professor I had and every advisor I spoke with talked ad nauseam about the high startup failure rate, how hard it is to get traction, and how little funding is available for first time founders. One thing that was never mentioned, however, was what I have since found to be the key to startup success.
Academia is a solo sport
I can’t speak for programs or universities other than mine- but it is generally held knowledge that one starts and finishes college alone. The majority of the work completed toward the “holy grail” that is the degree- is done alone. Yes, there are group projects and assignments but aside from a few outliers- these collaborative efforts are means to an end rather than a team building exercise.
Entrepreneurship is rugby
If you’ve never played rugby you can insert any team sport in as substitution. But, I chose ruby instead of say.. football.. because in football, if need be, the quarterback can simply throw the ball all the way down the field to a player who can catch it and make a touchdown. If all goes perfectly, two people can get the job done. In rugby, however, you can only pass the ball backward. So, you must run slightly ahead of the pack and then flip the ball back to a teammate who must then accelerate with the ball and pass it back to another player. This cycle continues until the entire team has forced the ball across the goal line. Not only is it an total team endeavor, but it takes all of the group’s blood, sweat, strength, and perseverance to get the ball to the finish line.
When I graduated I thought I finally had everything I needed to build my empire. Credibility from my degree, some connections from my network, a good idea, and a lot of passion. I got to work designing business plans and drafting financial projections. My company name was clever, the timing was (probably not right but I thought it was) great, and I had a go-to-market plan. Then I took a job with a small consulting firm and decided to work on the “business” in my free time. We all know how this story ends. It’s insane how little free time it seems like there is when a creative project is looming.
I decided to put the “business” on hold until I was up to speed with the demands of my new position and the business plan I had worked on with such vigor sat on my desk gathering dust and resentment. I was bitter about not pushing my business forward but I was also stuck because I didn’t know what the next steps were. My neighbors probably thought I was crazy for talking to myself day and night, but I had no one to bounce ideas off of. My family was sick of hearing about my idea and my mom, arguably the person who loves me the most, said “honey- if I hear the words peer-to-peer again, I am going to peer out a 20 story window and consider jumping.” I knew it was over then.
What was missing
After all was said and done, I took a look back at my process to see what I might have been able to do differently. Maybe I should have built a better MVP and shipped it to customers to try out. I could have organized a MeetUp and discussed the benefits/ drawbacks of the product with other like minded individuals.. And then it hit me: it was other people.
What I was missing were the insights and collaboration of other people. I was building this product in a vacuum, and not only was that incredibly lonely but it was insanely unproductive. I needed to bring others on board to motivate me, inspire the mission, point out design flaws, test the business model, run market demand tests, UX design, help with branding… literally everything.
The new game: entregby
Entregby/entrəɡbē/noun: a team endeavor where the founding group must pass the project from hand to hand while moving toward the goal line.
Being a solo-founder is not sexy- it is very often debilitating. I don’t need to site statistics about the rate of loneliness in entrepreneurship, I actually think it would be insulting to do so because, in my opinion, all of the stats I have come across dramatically underestimate the volume of the issue. Beyond isolation, being a solo-entrepreneur is hard because you are the only one who can fix problems and the only one there to celebrate when things so right. It’s like spending your worst days and your birthdays alone- it isn't glamorous.
I completely understand that hiring a team, especially early in a startup’s journey, is difficult. The online resources for doing so are sub-par, the offline MeetUps/ support groups are often a waste of time, and accelerators are becoming more and more pyramid-scheme-eque by the day. Honestly- I get it. But, we have to find a way to bridge the gap between founder and startup job seeker because there are a ton of amazing individuals with seriously valuable skills that want to help start a revolution. These people want to get in at the early stages and help grow an organization from 1 to 100. As the founder, it is your job to inspire and lead- but it is not your duty to take on every responsibility from A to Z. There is a better way- we just have to find it.