Friday, June 03, 2005

Try Something Else

The camera crew from Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year came by today to interview Jon and me about the company and our thoughts on what it takes to be an entrepreneur, for use at the 2005 finalist awards banquet.

Funny thing about it is, I don't think I ever set-out to "be" an entrepreneur, I was just driven to deploy my skills and ideas in a direction to improve things, and when I did, people saw what we created and told me; "You're an entrepreneur".

Once I got thinking about some of the interview questions the camera crew had in mind, I got to thinking what sets apart some entrepreneurs from others is how they respond to the challenges and stages of growth. Do you ever "stop being an entrepreneur" and simply become a business person? The short answer, if you want to continue to grow and/or survive inevitable competition, is never. You need to keep solving problems, stay entrepreneurial, be creative, and keep trying new things.

It's very possible to expect there to be some smooth sailing after the turbulent start-up phase of a company. It takes a ton of persistence just to survive for a few years, but if you're lucky enough to breakthrough and see dramatic growth, there comes a choice to keep up the momentum, driving innovation and continued growth, or accept the growth, call it a "success", and exit stage left.

We have chosen not to seek smooth sailing. There's still too much opportunity, too many people who are still searching for a fitness and weight loss solution who haven't even heard of Being considered entrepreneurs is not a phase to us, a start-up prospect - it is a mentality that we bring to work with us every day that drives the culture of the company to face challenges with creativity and persistence. What's incredibly important as we evolve though, is that we impart the entrepreneurial spirit to each new member of the team. What used to be a challenge against external forces now has evolved into a challenge to keep the internal forces productive and pointed in the same direction as the vision of the entrepreneurial management. There are always problems in running a company - new problems and new opportunities every day. As an entrepreneur, my job is to look honestly at them, see the opportunities and options, and work with the best quality team I can muster to take on whatever the marketplace brings us. Some days are more turbulent than others, but you never stop dealing. You never stop solving. That's what sets apart some entrepreneurs from others.

There's an anecdote a friend told me once which is a metaphor for how I like to operate when faced with the challenges of growth we face daily at the company. The anecdote describes a newspaper reporter trying to get inside the mind of a Navy test pilot. When asked by the reporter "Let's say your plane is going down, and you absolutely know it's not gonna make it... what's the last thing that would go through your mind?" the test pilot answered back "Try something else." The reporter presses: "Yeah, but there's nothing else to try. You KNOW for certain the plane is going down. What goes through your mind at that moment?" The test pilot looks a little bewildered because the answer is so obvious to him, "try something else". The reporter is also getting frustrated because the pilot is not taking him up on the point of his hypothetical question. So he asks again, "But there are NO other options - the plane is 100% going down... what goes through your mind?" and test pilot says one last time, "I try something else".

That's the way the best entrepreneurs think too. When the going gets tough, which it always does if you're trying to innovate and grow, you have to be prepared to "try something else". There's always hope until you ACCEPT that you have no options. That's why I think a real entrepreneur never stops being an entrepreneur. You're always solving the riddle. The riddle is always changing. And the cycle continues. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and even giant GE prove to me that as long as you stay focused on innovation within your vision, the surge of growth does not have to end.

When an entrepreneur is faced with a challenge in any situation, you just have to "try something else", and continue trying something else until you solve it. And when that solution turns into a success story, you look for the next opportunity. That's how this company, and I, will stay entrepreneurial.

No comments: