When I was five years old, my first pet was a turtle, followed by a canary and a goldfish. I had dreams of growing old with them. I would picture working on my homework while laying on the shell of my five foot turtle, seeing my canary grow into a beautiful falcon and my fish into a beautiful White Shark. Unfortunately we all know that my story ends with a flush (except for the canary, that, for a non-religious upbringing, my brothers and I gave him a very Christian burial).
Looking back at my childhood expectations for my pets lives, I cannot stop thinking of how much it actually resembles my expectations for my first startups and that of millions of entrepreneurs.
I can think of a number of parallels…
FIRST – In the Hands of a Green Entrepreneur
The life of my pets depended on the attention span and care of a five year old. They probably would have had a better shot at life under the proper care of an untrained chimpanzee.
It is very difficult to raise a successful business without having access to mentors and the understanding of the importance of turning to subcontractors as quickly as possible to specialize in specific non-core areas of your business.
SECOND – The Eminent Flush
My pets demanded delicate attention. A slight change in water temperature, carbon level, underfeeding and overfeeding had a high probability of being the diagnosis (or misdiagnosis) at the time of their final rest.
A startup is as delicate as any of your childhood pets. It requires more attention than you ever could imagine. If you don’t believe me, leave your company in the hands of a manager (without sizable stake in the company) for one month and then come back and check the numbers on your dashboard. No matter how good the manager is, it is never a time to celebrate.
THIRD – Only a White Shark Can Become a White Shark
I was alone in the joke. The pet store owner as well as everyone but me knew that these pets where miniatures. These animals would never grow to become beautiful “Animal Planet” size creatures.
This one is the most important factor. Few startups have the potential to grow as much as you would like them to grow (profits, revenues, geographic or demographic coverage etc.). Actually most startups or businesses have in their DNA a limiting factor to their growth. This limit is pre-determined by a number of factors, like capacity, market size and the additional tens of factors you could find in your nightmares during finals in business school. Therefore, it is important to consider some of the most important ones before deciding to invest the next five years of your life in a venture that will not be able to get you to your desired growth despite your passion and hard work. Of course the entrepreneur who is very passionate about the product will always get started and hope he/she can expand this limit by pivoting the company every time it gets closer to the wall. I also understand that approach, and it can work as well, as long as the passion doesn’t fade, the survival cash doesn’t burn and the strategy changes at lighting speeds.
Raising a Tuna into a White Shark
Seventeen years after my farewell to my first three pets I had a chance to start my own company. I experienced eight years in business and went through all the exciting highs and not so exciting lows of growing the business. I learned more than I could have ever learned as an employee in a lifetime about people, business and life. When my company was growing and I was looking to expand our back-office operations in Latin America and our footprint through acquisition in the North East, I realized I was not prepared to do it alone, but more importantly the toll of seven years of work in overdrive entrepreneurial mode was too great. I needed a change, so I transitioned away from leading my business and went on to Business School. I knew then that I wanted to try something different after school.
Today, having lived through a handful of goldfish ventures and experienced two lifecycles of struggling to turn a Tuna into a White Shark, the following two outcomes hold truth:
1. I have the great ability to spot the entrepreneur investing time in building a shark tank in preparation for the coming years of his/her goldfish.
2. I am certain that my next entrepreneurial story will begin with a White Shark cubby.