This past semester, I took a class in entrepreneurial journalism where we learned about the startup journey and even created & pitched our own business plans. At the end of the course, we wrote a reflections essay. I knew from the moment it was assigned exactly what I would write about: safety pins.
This is what came out. I hope it provides insight into the less publicized side of entrepreneurship but more importantly (& more realistically) a few laughs for your day. Maybe you’ll even align with one of the characters and find your place in the startup script. (If you’re a safety pin like me, welcome, friend. Let’s try not to stick each other.)
My mom is a cynical pessimist, a self-described safety pin popping the balloons of life.
My dad is a creative optimist with an unending supply of balloon art ideas. Growing up, the phrase “I have an idea for a new business” was heard in every room of the house. I saw the balloon take shape and then pop courtesy of reality’s sharp touch. Somehow, my dad never let that keep him from blowing up more balloons. While the prick of a safety pin may be loud, I’ve seen it protect my family and drive ideas into more realistic realms.
Naturally, I’m a safety pin.
I can blow up a balloon or two, but I run out of breath relatively quickly (thanks, asthma). While the role of head entrepreneur is one I have no desire to play, the sidekick role was made for me. This semester has shown me how a startup company needs both Big Idea Bob and Reality Check Rita, and it’s proven to me how I can fit into the entrepreneurial script.
Bob Pinckney (director of UGA’s entrepreneurship program) taught us that entrepreneurship equals vision plus leadership. I have no problem constructing a clear vision, but it’s always questioned, analyzed and deconstructed shortly after birth. Then, it morphs into a new, powerful vision of how the idea will crumble. I’m pretty sure that’s not the type of vision to which Pinckney was referring.
While I feel right at home in positions of leadership, the equation suggests that leadership alone is not enough. How can I lead a team to a place I believe will be extinct by the time we get there? The answer is simple: I can’t.
Other adjectives for an entrepreneur include confident, resilient, adaptable, skillful and optimistic. If the list stopped after word four, I would be an entrepreneur. That final word is what separates my dad from my mom and some of my classmates from me.
While society has deemed the optimistic personality the “right” one, there is, however, a place for pessimism.
Our breed is needed, especially in entrepreneurship.
At the Entrepreneurial Journalism Symposium, Dan Maccarone and Nsenga Burton emphasized entrepreneurship as a collaborative effort. Maccarone said he has “gut check people” on his team, and I’d bet an angel investment that they have at least a dash of pessimism in their personalities.
There’s no denying that Big Idea Bob needs to be an optimist to successfully pivot a thousand times before reaching success.
Since Reality Check Rita isn’t leading the charge, however, her pessimism can be an important asset to Bob’s team. She can provide the necessary evaluation of weaknesses and threats in a SWOT analysis (as long as another team member assists with the strengths and opportunities). When we performed our own SWOT analyses, I found myself following in Rita’s footsteps as I naturally created a chart heavy on the danger side.
In almost every class and guest lecture, the word “risk” was mentioned. The true entrepreneurial spirit includes a willingness to take risks or else the business will never leave the ground.
I’ve taken far too many personality tests to ignore the fact that I’m not a risk-taker. My idea of a risk is going to a restaurant that received a B on its health score.
Maybe calculated, small risks are acceptable, but significant ones give me more anxiety than I already have.
In Marc Gorlin’s keynote address, he told Grady grads, “Don’t be afraid to write obituaries.” It’s easy to assume that non-entrepreneurs are afraid of failure, but I disagree. I’m not afraid to write obituaries. In fact, I could write them all day. That’s the problem.
I am too quick to call time of death.
I see the holes in the plan and how they will overcome the unifying material that barely connects them. In foodie terms, I see Swiss cheese where others see cheddar.
Gorlin’s advice also included, “Ask questions.” I can ask the tough questions because I don’t have the rose-colored view, making me invaluable to a serial entrepreneur. My perspective can shed light on uncharted territory and subsequently lead to a better, more refined product.
While I enjoyed pitching my business plan, I viewed it as a performance. I had to pull on my years of acting training to transform into a person who actually believed this company was a good idea. After my dad read my business plan, he asked if I wanted to follow through with it.
I quickly responded, “It would never work.”
He, of course, tried to convince me otherwise, but I held my skeptical ground. Based on that interaction alone, I know I would be miserable leading an entrepreneurial charge.
Thanks to my dad (and the fact that my sister is practically his clone), I am well-versed in working with that type of personality.
Thanks to my mom, I know how to effectively use my little safety pin spear to push those people closer to a profitable business.
I have the utmost respect for people like my dad who can create balloon after balloon without passing out, but I know that the fibers of my being just weren’t designed with that task in mind.
So, put me on a team with balloon artists and fellow safety pins, and I’ll thrive. Just don’t let me tackle a new business venture alone – I’ll prick myself.