Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lessons learned as an aspiring entrepreneur

I’ve had a few thoughts bouncing around my head lately that I wanted to turn into a blog post regarding some lessons I’ve learned in the last five years as a would-be entrepreneur.
It takes some of us longer than others and that’s okay.
On his podcast Jason Calacanis recently was interviewing a striking individual named Kenyatta Leal who had spent 19 years incarcerated for possession of a firearm under California’s Three Strike Law, but had made a complete turnaround and landed a job in the tech industry in the heart of San Francisco although he was still serving a life sentence at the time — in other words, if he ever came out — and had never seen the internet!
Jason then asked Kenyatta how could he ever have reconciled the fact of having lost 19 years of his life, to which Kenyatta retorted that he hadn’t lost anything, but that he had needed every single day he had spent inside to truly find himself and to determine his future moving forward.
Very, very powerful stuff; I strongly recommend to anyone listening to the entire episode — you will not regret having taken the time.
It made me realize that everyone’s journey is different and it’s up to me to make mine count despite the fact that I'm no early prodigy, to say the least.
Even though Instagram took off really quickly and sold shortly thereafter for $1 billion while I concurrently have seemingly gone nowhere fast, it will not help me to make the comparison.
I’ve come to realize that what’s important is to truly find my path and take it from there while making my advancements more efficient relative to myself, not to others.
Try not to go to battle with a only toothpick.
I started five years ago getting my first web development off the ground, not knowing any basics, much less knowing what PHP referred to. I didn’t know the difference between an angel investor and a VC. I didn’t even know that what I was planning to do was called a startup, and yet I had decided to do just that. It was a long learning curve as a non-technical solo founder having to outsource development and subsidize my own way while learning the rudiments of being a product manager.
Fast forward to now and I’ve come to realize that I had gone to battle with only a toothpick as my sole weapon.
No harm done, however, save perhaps for the extra long runway; but the exercise was excellent at driving home, (keeping the war metaphor going), that to succeed I need to go back to the gunnery and get myself a flame thrower, a bazooka and a few miscellaneous items before heading to battle.
When the needle ain’t moving there’s no point staring at it and hoping it will.
When (and where) I grew up, I’ve commonly heard people throwing the following expression at one another: “You get it quickly as long as I explain it to you for a long time”.
It was derisive, even when disguised as humor.
Being a mason, I have made my own version:
“I learn quickly if you bang me over the head repeatedly with a brick for a long time.”
Even though it is self-deprecating, I have felt that way with metrics: sometimes I can be stubborn.
When people would talk about metrics I would tend to tune out.
Well, after five years of very little traction, something has finally hit me on the topic of metrics. I have a difficult time putting into words, but “I get it now” is what I can say; and it is a profound, visceral grasp that is beyond a simple intellectual understanding or lip service.
It took getting hit over and over for 1,800 days with the same fact — a flat graph to contemplate — to really drive it home. Talk of being stubborn as a mule, LOL.
In short, you can make all the excuses you want, but the metrics tell the real tale.
It’s much more efficient (and rational!) to look and act accordingly.
Be thankful for what you already have.
I had a personal crisis a few months ago (sorry but I shall remain mostly opaque about what it specifically was) -- and I'm still not out of the woods yet -- which has made me truly appreciate the need to be thankful for what I already have, as it could all quickly go away.
When you’re chasing “the dream”, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’ll only really start living when you’ve reached it.
But you have to live your life every day that you are living it, because that is your life.
Now, when I wake up every morning, I still very much focus on what I want to achieve; but immediately after that, I take a few minutes to reflect on everything I currently have in my life and put myself in a mental place where I’m thankful for having it.
Don’t ever give up.
This is not a lesson I have learned in the sense that I once gave up and had to learn from it.
It is a continuous observation and appreciation of the fact that I’m not the type to give up and don’t intend to.
Call it the positive side of my stubbornness.
That may be the most important lesson of them all, as nothing is rarely handed to most of us on a silver plate.


  1. This is really moving to me Mario. A friend shared a snippet from one of Vonnegut's later books, I think it was something the main character's uncle said....along the lines of "if this isn't nice, what is?" which I think is both rhetorical and also an exhortation to try something else if you're not enjoying the work you're involved in now.

    Most of the time entrepreneurship is a matter of the mindset you have (yeah, you know me I'm always thinking about that=) and how you go to war, to fail, to learn, to become a better human and build things that have meaning. Too often we get hung up on the outliers that we think we look like, when we should be building ourselves and our work endeavor with integrity and one brick at a time.

  2. "Too often we get hung up on the outliers that we think we look like, when we should be building ourselves and our work endeavor with integrity and one brick at a time."

    A lot of truth in that sentence. It's a new classic -- and I appreciate the masonry reference :-)

    I think I'm gonna have to start calling you "The Philosopher", LOL.

  3. The last sentence js a classic -- and I appreciate the masonry reference :-)

    I think I'm gonna have to start calling you "The Philosopher", LOL.

  4. Heh. Yeah I thought you might, I thought to myself after writing it, now I'm talking Mariospeak = )