My Friend Howard Goes Off-I Am Glad He Did

This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures

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My friend Howard Tullman wrote an article in Inc.  It’s worth reading.  It’s entitled Young, Stupid and Overconfident.  The subtitle is “We have raised a generation of entrepreneurs and workers who are remarkably out of touch with what’s required to start and run a business. Here’s a hint, snowflakes: It doesn’t involve kombucha on tap.”

In some cases, I don’t disagree even though my wife and I make kombucha at home. It’s best to remain calm as long as you can.  However, there are times to lose your cool.

If you don’t know Howard, he’s been an entrepreneur almost his whole life.  He graduated from Northwestern Law. He won cases.  He built many successful businesses.  He collects art.  He wears funny shirts.  He thinks different.  There was something in the water in his home because his brother has been successful too.  He is steeped in what it means to be a successful person and a successful entrepreneur.  This column didn’t come out of spite, it came out of love.

In our line of entrepreneurship, B2B Fin Tech, we don’t get a lot of this holier than thou attitude.  The entrepreneurs we deal with are generally a bit older and have been in the trenches awhile.  They aren’t fresh out of a college dorm room, drinking Red Bull and hacking some business together over a Startup Weekend Hackathon.

Howard is sending a warning signal to the people that think entrepreneurship is a hobby or playtoy.  It’s not.  It’s more like Thunderdome and for the kids that weren’t born yet when the Mad Max movies were made I suggest you stream them on Netflix.

I think you can be touchy-feely in business to a point.  I know there are folks out there writing about work/life balance and mental health.  Yes, it’s important. But, entrepreneurship is hyper-competitive.  Yes, you need to take care of yourself and you need to pay attention to your family, but the business never leaves you.  It all goes together.  My wife and I scheduled our first daughter’s birth around MLK day so I could go back to work the next week.  If I didn’t work, we didn’t make money.  I didn’t need two months at home to bond with her and to prove it she’s coming over tonight for dinner.

It amazes me that the expectation of startup employees is to be bussed to work, fed at work, and have nap rooms at work.  To me, it resembles a kindergarten in a way.   When I quit my sales job at $MMM to go to the trading floor, I had to feed and clothe myself and make my own way to work.  All on $150/wk gross.  That’s $350/wk in today’s dollars.  Oh, and while I was on my job all I did was get yelled at and told I wasn’t good enough.  Contrast that to the startup scene in Silicon Valley.

I am not saying that you have to walk uphill both ways to school in piles of snow to be successful.  You don’t.  But, the path to success isn’t straight and paved.  It involves taking a lot of calculated risks and then performing.  Everyone doesn’t get a trophy, and everyone doesn’t get to play.

I am also not saying that you don’t fill your workplace with values like respect, tolerance and being nice to one another.  You can have rules about not cussing in the office.  I think that’s also Howard’s point.  All the “me me me me attitude” is destroying those kinds of values.

As Howard says, “The only serious question is, how long before the game is up? If they were merely incompetent, we might be able to remedy their deficiencies — given half a chance. But it’s the fact that they’re so insufferably convinced of what they’re spouting that’s becoming intolerable.”

One reason for this is helicopter parenting.  Believe it or not, a law student told me there were some parents that came to their child’s orientation day for law school.  The parents went through it like they would have a grade school or freshman year orientation.  One parent even pointed at her child when one of the professors asked who wanted to be a litigator.  These are kids that have graduated from college for goodness sake.

Another reason is the college experience in the US has descended into a sloth-like experience.  There is no rigor.  College should be about exploring ideas but today in the US it is about programming intolerant robots that all think alike.  Critical thinking doesn’t abound.   It’s why people get offended if they see a t-shirt that doesn’t look right.

If you want to succeed in entrepreneurship you have to do the thankless jobs no one else wants to do.  It’s doing the little things, and being organized.  It’s establishing a ritual for yourself to get things done.  There are no cheerleaders or bands out there to wake you up in the morning.  No one is patting you on the back for sharpening the pencils that day.

Entrepreneurship is about having the intestinal fortitude and internal engine to go out and try to win each and every day.

When you get beat, you take stock of that and the next day you know what you do?  You get up and go out and try to win again.  Entrepreneurship is a battle.  Only resilient battlers survive.  Only the ones that can critically think and have enough confidence in themselves to go against the tide day after day after day win.  You have to have thick skin and be scrappy to be an entrepreneur.  You cannot be afraid of being a singular object in the universe that others will make fun of.

If you are a fragile person, the startup game isn’t for you.  It doesn’t mean you cannot be successful.  It does mean you need to find another path where the path might be paved.  Entrepreneurs climb the mountain without a rope.

Howard is going to get a lot of criticism and push back for writing what he did.  But, I am glad he did.  If you know Howard, you know that he’s not just some old guy faking it till he makes it.  He has the scars of being an entrepreneur.  He earned em.