Meadow CreekNews

Do You Have Fire in Your Belly?

Filed under Venture Capital and Start Ups on June 9, 2009

I am always improvising my elevator speech when I go to various events. When I’ve had too much coffee or my persona drifts back into the “corporate” Dick Gabel, it often takes on an edge that startles some. That was the case earlier this week when I announced that business is war, entrepreneurs were in a kill or be killed situation, most of them were going to die and if they didn’t have fire in their belly they ought to find a job. I then offered my mercenary services, but I had probably lost my audience by then. That was not what they wanted to hear.

I once volunteered at a local charitable organization helping low income entrepreneurs. I gave a strategic planning presentation explaining that as entrepreneurs, they had to recognize that there were barbarians at the gate. I explained that their customers would want everything for nothing, their employees would want their money, their suppliers would want their money and their banks would want only as much money that allowed them to survive. Today I would remove the qualification on the banks. I told them if they wanted a friend in business to get a dog. I then went on to describe how their business plan would define the rules of engagement with all of these hostile parties. For some reason, I was never invited back. Apparently they preferred my earlier kinder and gentler ways of describing the business world.

In the world of social networking, chambers of commerce, internet marketing and networking organizations it’s easy for entrepreneurs to drift into a false sense of security that starting and growing a business can all be accomplished from the relative safety and non-threatening atmosphere of social events, workshops and the privacy their laptops. If only that was the case. If you take that approach, it only turns it into a war of attrition. You hunker down in your trench until you ultimately run out of money. Your vision, your dream and your business join the frighteningly high body count of business failures.

Two-thirds of start-ups will not survive. In today’s environment, it is probably much higher. The survivors will be the ones with a plan, make that a viable plan, a determination to win, the willingness to go out and meet people and ask for their business and a lot of luck. It’s not a pretty picture, but that’s the truth.
My corporate background is in business restructuring and turnarounds. I’ve seen the deadly consequences that this war can have on large well capitalized businesses. The death of those companies takes a good decade at the very least, unlike the entrepreneur that is usually just shot down in his or her tracks. All of the group hug sessions in the world are not going to change the odds. Capitalism is a monetary exercise in the survival of the fittest.

This is not to say that as an entrepreneur you will not develop friendships with employees, customers, suppliers and competitors that will last a life time. You will, unfortunately they will probably out last your business. So why do I write this depressing stuff when all anyone wants to do is have fun and realize their dreams?
Time after time I hear entrepreneurs say they have all of these great ideas and plans, but they need someone to give them a push. To those that say all they need is a little push to get them going, it’s time to wake-up and make some decisions. They need to look at themselves and their business and ask two very important questions.
Do I really have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

Does my business plan have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding?
Unless you can honestly and emphatically answer yes to both of those questions, it’s time to get a job and move on with your life.

If you do answer yes to both of those questions, then you don’t need a push, just look over your shoulder. Those are the four horseman of the apocalypse coming at you. Run, don’t stop running, don’t look back, just keep running and do whatever you have to do to succeed. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t ask for a push, if you’re asking for a push it’s already too late. Ask for advice, ask for expertise, ask for money, ask for the order, but don’t look back just keep running. They’ll get the slow ones, but not you. You’ve got the drive, there’s fire in your belly and you’re going to be one of the winners.

Richard Gabel

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