I was a Wannabe Travis Kalanick
Why this type of entrepreneur has little chance at success
What is an entrepreneur?
Is an entrepreneur someone with a passion, who dedicates their life and livelihood to an idea despite all obstacles and challenges? Or is an entrepreneur someone who takes small, calculated risks, with niche expertise, and who makes commitments only in proportion to magnitude and way in which their idea has been received?
They both could be true from a surface perspective, but despite what pop culture has taught us, the first type of entrepreneur will more likely be a “former aspiring entrepreneur” whereas the second type will become someone with the title of “CEO” or “founder”; i.e. if you truly want to start a company, and not just be another Travis Kalanick wannabe, I’d suggest aspiring toward the second definition.
Travis Kalanicks do exist, but they are the exception to the rule in terms of what makes a successful startup story (which is also why their stories as so intriguing). Most successful entrepreneurs move very, very slowly.
And I know this, because I was a wannabe Travis Kalanick. But you won’t read my story in any books, as my ride was not so wild. It was more like a SpaceX Falcon 9. I built the rocket, but it barely made it off the ground before fizzling out.
Being a Type 1 entrepreneur often fails because the motivation going into it is skewed. We often, despite not being consciously aware of it, have dreams of fame and glory as an end goal, as opposed to a desire to truly run a functioning company, and more often lack the qualifications to even do so.
While fake it till you make it works sometimes, it’s not a good policy for most people, unless there’s something that really differentiates you from the pack.
One of the reasons Type 1 entrepreneurs justify to themselves that startups are the perfect career option, is telling ourselves: “I’m not cut out for the corporate world.”
I, for one, have two degrees in two different fields and interests and talents that don’t fall into either of them. So since I “can do so many things”, starting a company is the perfect option. Right? Very very wrong.
Being a person who is “good at many things” is not a good enough reason to reject the possibility of getting a corporate position. That’s because doing anything otherwise, before you have achieved personal success, is a huge financial risk, and so taking such a huge risk without something to fall back on simply reflects back on you as somebody who doesn’t know how to manage risk so well — good luck finding investors to your startup.
Another way we justify it is PASSION. But having pure “passion” for an idea, without having credibility in the field — without being an expert in your niche — does not qualify you to be a founder. Successful startups do not aspire to dominate one industry or another right off the bat. More often, they start out as a niche tool or application for a very small audience. When they are successful at that, they expand vertically or horizontally.
For example, creating a more ethical version of Facebook will duly fail, because there is no niche market pinpointed. Passion for social media ethics better translates to provocative journalism than startup success.
After recognizing that you are a Type 1 founder, I’d recommend taking a step back. Reflect on your goals and your motivations. If avoiding a corporate career is part of the plot (be honest with yourself), then I’d suggest going (back) to school to get a degree in something practical. This way, you can start your career off on the right foot, and over time, potentially even gain the expertise to branch off and start your own thing. Or, you may realize that to get a product off the ground it takes an incredible amount of luck and an unreasonable amount of persistence, and even then your chances of success are 1 in 10 if even that — and then decide startups were really never really your thing in the first place.
I’m not saying to give up on your dreams; but what I’m saying is you might as well become very very clear what your dreams actually are. Do I desire fame and glory — despite the toll it may take on my health and social life? Or do I simply desire financial independence? If it’s the latter, there are several options which are significantly less risky than starting your own company.
How about learning about financial markets, or real estate? Or maybe consider getting an MBA and moving even further up the ranks in the corporate setting? There is absolutely nothing uncool about this. If anything, keeping your professional life confined to a strict allocation of hours each day is very appealing as someone who attempted the dedicate every living cell of their body to an idea 24/7 for two years. Outside of work, you may even have time to pursue other things, like hobbies — things which provide inner fulfillment. Money is not all there is to life.
Here’s a suggestion: Think about the life you’d want to live once you’ve achieved financial independence, and make that life your goal. Don’t worry about how the journey will look getting there. Don’t try to be Travis Kalanick — try to be yourself, and the things you want will come to you in due time, startup, or no startup.