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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Musings on Start Ups and Entrepreneurship

My friend Chris Rabb (from AfroNetizen, writer, consultant, speaker, fellow at Demos and visiting researcher at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) just sent me some information for his upcoming book.  

Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity

-    Reveals the true landscape of opportunity and the hidden assets entrepreneurs benefit from that improve business viability
-    Shows how invisible capital tilts an already uneven playing field
-    Offers solutions that empower individuals and communities by democratizing entrepreneurial opportunity and leveraging invisible capital towards building commonwealth enterprises.

I've been planning to write this blog post for a while now, but seeing his email in my inbox seemed like a sign that now was the time.  So here goes - my musings on start ups and entrepreneurship (Take I).  

Earlier this year, I resigned from a comfortable and established job with a large non-profit to head up a start up.  Several colleagues in New Media have asked me - "How could you do that?"  and "Why would you do that?"

The answer is simple, I thought that the upside in such a venture was huge.  The lack of security - financial and otherwise - was indeed daunting but more daunting was what I was facing if I did not step out of that comfort and into the venture, my never knowing if this start up could truly flourish if I never gave it a chance.  
The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure. -Sven Goran Eriksson
Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something. -Frederick Smith
This is not my first time stepping into entrepreneurial shoes.  As of 2003, I became a serial social  entrepreneur.  In the subsequent years I teamed up with several folks to start up:, Progressive Women in Politics - now the Good Ol Girls Club in SF, the Institute for Progressive Christianity, and most recently Latinos in Social Media.  Moreover, I was one of the first board members of the New Leaders Council back when it was just starting up in the Bay Area.  

What keeps drawing me back to these start up ventures is the opportunity and promise that each of them hold.  Any and all organizations, businesses, non-profits even governments started with an idea.  When I see a good idea that I believe in, I am inspired to see if I can bring the breath of life to it and help it succeed.  

Unfortunately, the numbers of those that do succeed are dismally small.  My friend Chris writes, "But a slew of government data on entrepreneurial activity tells quite a different story: The chances that a newly minted entrepreneur builds a business that survives 5 years, employs 20 workers and generates significant profit is about 1 in 1,000! The 999 entrepreneurs who didn’t make it to this threshold “failed” not because they “didn’t want it badly enough”, but often it was due to a lack of intangible assets that play a crucial role in business viability." 

So the risks are huge.  But the upside is tremendous as well.  And that's what makes me continue to come back to the plate for more and in some cases, like this last one, put everything on the line - my salary, health care, benefits, security all of it on the line - because I dare to dream.

No regrets.
There are no failures - just experiences and your reactions to them. - Tom Krause 
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. - Colin Powell

Each time we set out on a new venture, I am hopeful that we will succeed but in the words of Ghandi, ultimately,
My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet. - Mahatma Gandhi
Or in the words of the more cynical Ben Franklin,
I didn't fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.
My most recent musing to date, "One of these days I am going to have to think of starting up my own for profit business so that I can fund all of these non-profits that I've helped to start up!"

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