by kirkcoburn
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I am spending a lot of time reflecting upon governance for startups, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I will be writing about this on the request of many of you that have been asking about how to manage the myriad stakeholders that demand your time. There are very few formal resources to teach you how to be a good entrepreneur. There are even fewer resources on teaching you how to be a good board member and/or manage a board. I will focus on the latter in future posts because if you are a founder that has raised outside capital, you need guidance. In the meantime, today’s post is about you…

My wife sent this blog to me many years ago (thanks to the long tail of the internet) as a discussion lesson for our children. It is entitled the 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. My old English personality usually comes out when discussing altruisms, but this list is profound not only for my children, but also for entrepreneurs. So please read and share your thoughts with me. 

For the author’s original opinion on each, read the article. Here is my version of what strong entrepreneurs don’t do:

  1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves In 2001, after the dot BOMB bust, I was in a startup having taken a reduced role. I felt that I deserved better. I give credit to my old boss whom asked me to watch the Band of Brother’s series to take my current disposition into perspective. The Band of Brothers (despite the artistic license and minor historical errors) makes a clear point that to survive war, you have to always be moving and looking out. The same goes for a startup. Those that feel sorry for themselves hesitate, look inward and get killed. Those looking out may also get killed but they are not wasting time and putting others in jeopardy. The series was a good reminder that the world owed me nothing. It clicked for me during ‘Bastogne.’ My success was not dependent upon my previous hard work, it was predicated on my current outlook and attitude. The previous hard work just prepared me to reduce the number of mistakes and increase the number of wins. 
  2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power this is acknowledging that only YOU are in control on your own emotions and that no one else can make you feel anything. Entrepreneurs, take responsibility. No one controls your emotions. This is a difficult one. As an entrepreneur, I pour my heart and soul into my companies. I get emotional. However, when someone or a situation does something to my team, my company and/or me, I get emotional. BUT no one controls me. The critical step is how I respond. When is the last time you said to someone, “You made me feel [insert]?” It is time to stop.
  3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change It is hard to be an entrepreneur and not enjoy change…but change is risky. Dealing with ambiguity and having the skill to adapt is critical. I often see too many entrepreneurs that are fixated on their product and unwilling to take critical customer feedback to adapt. Ultimately, these entrepreneurs fail. At the same time, many startups especially in energy fail because they are not ambitious enough to make the changes necessary to be bold and build a real valuation proposition. Does your board push you to be bold and restrain you to be mediocre? As an investor, if you are not at least 50% better than what is currently in the market, you do not have a chance.
  4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control I am a believer that we cannot control nor shouldn’t control others. We can control ourselves and how we respond to others. Not all entrepreneurs choose to make the wisest of decisions and some fail despite giving their all. As an investor, we cannot afford to worry about the ones that failed. We do however encourage the strong ones to get back into the game. This goes back to #3, don’t shy away from change because it will find you. When customers, investors and talent tell you no, move on!
  5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone As the entrepreneur and the leader, you are not going to be everyone’s friend. One of my first and favorite bosses, an army special forces veteran, used to tell me that he does not “play reindeer games” (go out, party, become best friends) with his employees (even today, I witness key people that love to go out and get wasted with colleagues and partners…red flag!). He encouraged me to do the same if I wanted move up the ladder of management. This was my first career lesson that sometimes leading meant choosing responsibility over friendship. As my friend Doug Tatum says, a company grows up when it moves from a culture of loyalty to a culture of performance. During the start of my first company, Jimmy (a successful entrepreneur that built a company from nothing to over $3B), told me to get rid of my entire management team. Ask me in person what I did next. I wanted to tell Jimmy that he ruined my weekend but see #2 and then after taking action, see #1.
  6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks The key word here is calculated. I work with many fellow angel investors interested in investing into energy . Despite all of the due diligence, there are new investors that just cannot pull the trigger. This fear ultimately hurts the new angel investor primarily because they never take enough chances at bat to create a portfolio that has a chance of returning. The Houston Angel Network tells all new members to not “let the J-Curve get you down.” In other words, loser investments usually come sooner than the winners. And these early disappointments dissuade investors from investing more. This self fulfilling prophecy is a death spiral.
  7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past I learned a valuable trait amongst the world’s greatest golfers. The best in the world share a statistic (and underlying trait) that puts them ahead of everyone else. It is called Bounce Back. Bounce Back is a statistic that measures a golfers ability to immediately recover from a mistake made on the golf course. The leaders on the PGA TOUR score a birdie or better on a hole immediately following a bogey or worse at a higher percentage than everyone else. Great golfers are able to look forward and not allow the past to impact their future decisions.
  8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over My little brother is a phenomenal athlete. In high school, he started as the quarterback for a large school in Texas. Despite there being other talented athletes, the head coach told me that he trusted my brother because he never made the same mistake twice. I have spent the last decade trying to emulate this trait.
  9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success Envy has been around since Cain and Able. However, an entrepreneur should build a dream because it is their passion. It is my opinion that people outside of their personal sweet spot fall into this category. The entrepreneurs that are focused on fulfilling their calling do not suffer from resenting others. If you suffer from this, go pursue your calling. Or email me for a list of resources on how to find it for yourself.
  10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure As an entrepreneur first, it is my job to find entrepreneurs that are worth putting my own money into. Failure is part of taking risk. I believe that he/she who makes the least amount of mistakes, wins. Those that quit early do not have the calling. I loved when Tony Hsieh created a policy at Zappos. He pays new employees $4,000 to quit. He wants people with passion. And passion is the only long-term recipe to stay in the game through the good times and bad times. Those at Zappos that turn down the $4,000 have a greater sense of belonging. Tony was a great entrepreneur.
  11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time Proverbs 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.” Many entrepreneurs struggle with ADHD. A startup is an “always on” responsibility. I encourage founders to work on the business vs. just in the business. I went through an executive coaching program that presented research upon research that the best entrepreneurs take time alone and free from work (no email, no business magazines and books, nada) to think and be void of work distractions. And it is during these moments that the big ideas come. My day usually starts at 4:30am. I love the pre-dawn morning because it is peaceful and quiet. I am not a morning person, but the discipline is very important for my ability to think, create and process. I encourage others to find their own way to spend time being still. Let me know how you do it.
  12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything I think this expectation is taught at an early age. Great entrepreneurs take the world. The rest fall into the category of believing that they are owed something. Good luck with that.
  13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results I spent a short season under the tutelage of Acton MBA co-founder and master entrepreneur Jeff Sandefer. He had me read the book Mastery by George Leonard. I was so impacted by it, that I encourage all founders to read it. The point of the book and my experience as a golfer, surfer, retired ultrarunner and entrepreneur has taught me that we need to love the “practice” and understand that results take time if we want to master something. This goes right back to passion. Masters of anything love the basics. And to love the basics, you have to be called to it.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts about these 13 Don’ts.

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