One of the entrepreneur’s first and most recurring challenges – a challenge to the heart, a challenge to passion – is overcoming fear.
Most entrepreneurs start businesses because they have mastered intense technical obstacles. They may not, however, have mastered personal obstacles including emotions and other, softer, more intangible skills. To do so, they must leverage courage, vigilance and commitment to overcome fear.
Courage, vigilance, commitment. Rinse and repeat. Let’s break down these core principles.
Part of creating a company is removing fear from the people you bring into it. When I started Micrel Semiconductor, I borrowed money from banks using personal promises and commitments. What my wife and I had earned and saved – our bank accounts, our cars, our homes – was all at risk. I then took great care in communicating my personal risk to our employees. Seeing that my future was more at risk than theirs, they knew I had their and my success in mind. But they also saw a courage in my convictions. Courage is contagious, and together we removed other fears and focused squarely on our achievements.
Mark Zuckerberg once famously said “Move Fast – Break Things.” The company later wisely shifted to “Move Fast – With Stable Infrastructure.”
The concept of speed is prevalent particularly here in the Silicon Valley. But I take a different view in terms of building enduring businesses. I believe it is the paced, disciplined training of the entrepreneurial mind that creates enduring companies. The resulting corporate mindset then helps in overcoming organizational fear, and by doing so transitions the business from an awkward start-up to a robust, lasting concern.
Being vigilant includes many factors, but a most important one involves not taking on too much at once. Doing so is like trying to play both the right and the left hand parts of a concerto during your first recital. Likewise, don’t try to sell to the world while in beta.
The vigilance to build apace eliminates the frustration that can and will erode confidence. Learn line upon line, precept upon precept, and store knowledge in the corporate muscle memory with repetition. The more organized the corporate mind, the more responsive the organization is to changing markets and economies. Does this sound monotonous and against the natural desire to run fast? If so, consider all the fast-moving startups that fail.
Entrepreneurship requires an above average level of self-discipline and passion.
In life, passion without self-control leads to dangerous outcomes. If you doubt this, think about climbing the sheer rock walls in Yosemite Valley without any thought or preparation. Such indulgences lead to unhealthy ends. Developing the means to assess self-discipline and passion will directly contribute to the endurance of the entrepreneurial pursuit.
Yet your commitment is not your employee’s commitment. A skill which entrepreneurs need to develop quickly is the ability to transfer his or her mission, vision and passion to the entire company. This then becomes the basis of formulating and perpetuating corporate culture. Without a well-honed culture, no two parts of the company are headed for the same objective, no two parts are aligned on the values that connect and differentiate the company, and the energy required to collectively face challenges is not accessible.
The Balance of Confidence and Competence
If an entrepreneur is confident but incompetent, employees will witness mistakes and view the confidence as egotistical – even delusional. This leads to corporate mutinies. On the flip side, those with competence but no confidence are simply not cut out for some of the brutal realities of entrepreneurship. Matching confidence, competence and a culture created to repeat success in turn builds the foundation and enduring abilities to drive lasting results.
When You Know it’s Working
There comes a moment in the growth curve of a company where you find complete peace.
Entrepreneurial confidence results in competent employees contributing to the growth of the company; and ultimately, parts of the company start to run themselves. When this happens, your corporate culture is succeeding. Micrel was nearing its third birthday when I recognized this. Certainly, we had our growing pains in the early years, but the core principles of courage, vigilance, commitment, competence and confidence were the ingredients that chartered our course for an incredibly successful and profitable 37 years. The company fired on all cylinders. Our employees were incredibly happy, morale was positive, turnover was low and we executed well. The culture was vibrant.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart – however, the payoffs exceed many expectations when success is realized. My book Tough Things First serves as a primer for the discipline, tenacity, courage, vigilance and commitment that can ultimately build and foster an enduring company over time.