Sunday, January 15, 2012

Vision, Humility, Perseverance

Perhaps the most daunting aspect of being a Research Entrepreneur is the solitude. Inherent to being an innovator is a willingness to go out on a limb, to test the waters, to traverse the uncharted. To find oneself in the middle of a field, without guidance, and to choose to continue is a humbling act.

You may notice the words "solitude" and "oneself" in the paragraph above. There's a conventional wisdom that says single founder firms have an up-hill battle to success. Paul Graham, the well known and respected co-founder of Y-Combinator has gone so far as to list it as mistake #1 on his list of The 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups:
What's wrong with having one founder? To start with, it's a vote of no confidence. It probably means the founder couldn't talk any of his friends into starting the company with him. ...
But even if the founder's friends were all wrong and the company is a good bet, he's still at a disadvantage. Starting a startup is too hard for one person. Even if you could do all the work yourself, you need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong. 
The last one might be the most important. The low points in a startup are so low that few could bear them alone.
Well, the point that you can't do it all yourself, that you need to brainstorm, that you need someone to cheer you up rings true. Yet the lows of being an entrepreneur are Everests to the valley I endured for four years post-PhD applying unsuccessfully for 150 faculty posts.

What exactly do we mean by "single founder". I've come to realize that even if there is just one person at the start of a company, the entrepreneur who takes the burden upon oneself, there is little reason to suspect that person is alone. There are any number of ways to form a team. There is of course the community of advisors you bring around you, and your spouse (if your lucky enough to have one who is supportive), and your family.

For a Research Entrepreneur, frankly any innovator, it's important to take to heart Tachi Yamada's quote, which serves as tagline to this blog "Innovation has no peers -- by definition!" Just as important as having friends to talk you out of stupid decisions, is the willingness and fortitude to stick to good ideas even when others dismiss them.

For my part, I would not be too quick to dismiss the importance of a life-partner, supportive and critical in equal measure, who is willing to talk you out of stupid decisions, argue with you when you obstinately stick to your ideas until you come to an understanding, cheer you when things go well, and sustain you when they go wrong.

More than five years after resigning from adjunct servitude, setting out on my own path, founding a business that supports and extends my research, creating jobs for others along the way, I'm still here, single founder and all. [And still happily married, I might add!]