Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #157
More ambiguous entrepreneurship advice. You're welcome.
Every time I finish another semester of teaching entrepreneurship courses — as I’m doing now — I find myself reflecting on what I think I taught students versus what they felt like they learned. The problem I struggle with is that I don’t feel like they ever think they learned as much as I believe they did.
I’m mentioning this because students spend their entire academic careers basically being told the right and wrong ways to do things by their teachers, but that’s not how I teach my classes. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have “rights” and “wrongs.” Every choice has to be made within context, and context is always changing.
Because contexts vary so much from one entrepreneurial scenario to another, I can’t give students what they want. Specifically, they want to know exactly how to do something. For example, how do they solve the equation or how do they complete the problem set. That’s great for their math and econ classes, but it doesn’t work in entrepreneurship classes. Instead, I spend the entire semester trying to teach my entrepreneurship students how to analyze situations, identify what data they need, and make the best decisions they can with the resources they have.
I’m quite certain the result is somewhat unsatisfying for the students. After all, they don’t feel like they’ve learned anything concrete.
I sometimes wonder if the same is true for all of you reading these issues. Rarely do I ever explain anything in concrete detail or give specific instructions. Instead, I present scenarios, offer possibilities, and describe outcomes. I’m sure it’s unsatisfying if you really just want to know how to do something the “right way,” but… well… I’m afraid it’s the nature of entrepreneurship. In fact, if anyone giving you startup advice ever tries to tell you “this is definitely the way to do XYZ thing,” you should ignore them. Or rather… you might want to consider ignoring them depending on the context. 😉
As with just about everything else in life, things in the startup world can often sound great, but it doesn’t make them true.
Every entrepreneur makes the same mistake when they’re first start trying to raise venture capital, and it’s a huge reason they struggle.
Office Hours Q&A
I’ve noticed in lots of your entrepreneurship articles you reference your family by talking about your wife and kids. I’m married with young children, too, but I find a lot of the entrepreneurs around me aren’t, and I feel like it sometimes creates problems for me especially related to fundraising.
I understand why. If I was a VC and was deciding whether to invest in someone who had no obligations other than his startup or someone with a family and everything that goes with it, I’d invest in the single guy, too. Did you ever deal with this type of issue while fundraising, and, if so, how?
I love this question because I remember wondering the same thing.
When I first began building startups, I didn’t have a family to care for. Once I did, I definitely spent significantly less time building my companies, and I’m guessing the same is true for all but the most poorly prepared entrepreneurs who become new parents.
Truth be told, I did worry about how having a family would impact my ability to fundraise. Specifically, thinking from an investor’s perspective, it certainly seemed like entrepreneurs with young families were liabilities because it meant investing in people who weren’t going to put as much time into trying to make the company successful.
However, now that I’m older and have a bit more perspective, I’ve learned three important things about this issue that will (hopefully) allay some of your concerns.
First, while it’s true you’ll have less time to work, entrepreneurs with young families also tend to be better at prioritizing their time. In other words, I became a much more efficient and, as a result, effective entrepreneur after having kids, and it’s because I simply didn’t have nearly as much time to waste.
Second, being a parent actually opens some valuable networking doors you probably didn’t realize exist. Specifically, people who are further along in their careers tend to be parents as well, and you’ll find some great networking opportunities with key potential customers, clients, partners, investors, etc. simply by suggesting a playdate for your children. Let’s call that a parenting #protip.
Third, when you assume investors care that you have kids when making investment decisions, it likely means you’re prioritizing the wrong things in fundraising. Investors are looking for evidence that your company is going to be successful. If your startup is doing $5 million in revenue and growing 80% month over month, you’re going to get investors even if you have 20 kids. Conversely, if your company is garbage, you’re not going to get investors even if you work 20 hour days, seven days a week.
In other words, don’t worry about having a family. Worry about pitching a great company. That’s what gets you investors.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!