Building a Successful Business is Not ‘Winning the Lottery’

If you’ve ever done something risky like leaving your job to start a company, there was probably someone who tried to talk you out of it. You especially get this if you come from a blue-collar background with unions, steady paychecks, and lots of savings bonds on your birthday.

Disclosure: I’m definitely overreacting to a comment I read on VentureBeat. But it reads:

… Entrepreneurship is a political smokescreen for elevating the rights of equity owners over workers by romantizing the risks and sacrifices of people who are essentially trying to win the lottery for themselves, using other people’s money. Other cultures (Germany, Korea, Japan, the Nordics) do not romanticize entrepreneurship, have highly successful economies, and do a far better job of rewarding ordinary productive employees and other contributors to society.

I don’t know why, but I think of Tom Branson in Downton Abbey (a real Debbie Downer early in the show) when I read that. Who the hell could be that cynical?

Well, a lot of people. Ever hear someone cite the statistic, “1 in 10 business fail in their first year”? I have — and they’re usually implying that starting a business is risky and 90% likely to fail — as if the odds blindly apply to your business no matter how hard you work.

The worst part of that comment was saying that entrepreneurial success equates to winning the lottery. That comment is basically implying that the odds of any success are almost non-existent, and you should go make yourself totally dependent on someone else for a paycheck.

This was my reply:

That’s pretty cynical. Starting a 1 billion dollar company is winning the lottery. You don’t need to be incredibly lucky or use someone else’s money to start a sustainable lifestyle business.

Starting your own company is about taking control of your own destiny and making an impact. It’s about independence — not sitting in some cubicle all day and waiting for your ration of cheese every 2 weeks.

It’s also about learning. You’ll learn more about running a business by starting one than you will working for someone else or going back to school.

Special thanks to Notorious BIG’s teacher for getting me all riled up this morning — the one that apparently said, “you’ll never amount to nothin'”. And Rudy’s steel mill dad — why don’t you just work in the mill and live a quiet life Rudy?

It’s probably not very strong to end on questionable pop-culture references, but you get the drift. If starting a business is like playing the lottery — it’s a lottery where you can push the odds in your favor with hard work and smart decision making.

Bonus Round!

Are there any psychology majors in the house? Here’s something to ponder:

The 9 out of 10 businesses that ‘fail’ include many things that you wouldn’t ordinarily pool yourself with:

  • LLCs that people half-heartedly started on LegalZoom and don’t devote time to
  • Brick and mortar business that sell something odd (Ned Flanders’ left-handed store)
  • Businesses that were sold or close for other reasons (retirement, etc)

So if you start a company, and you truly believed that you have a 90% chance of failure, will that psychological impact influence your outcome? If you find you aren’t succeeding, do you resign yourself to the odds without any sort of fight?


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