The Entrepreneur’s Prayer guides you to find the balance between ego and humility allowing you to see a path to success while avoiding the traps others have fallen into.
Alcoholics Anonymous and many other twelve-steps programs have adopted the famous Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference
I often teach budding entrepreneurs a variant they must keep in mind.
Give me the power listen when others know better than I,
To speak when I know better than others,
And the wisdom to know the difference
To be an entrepreneur is to live in a world of rejection. You hear the word “no” constantly, multiple times a day. NO, I won’t invest. NO, I won’t work for you. NO, I won’t buy your product. NO, I won’t partner with you. NO, I don’t even want to take a meeting with you. No. No! NO!
People aren’t trying to be mean. They’ve just seen that pitch before, often many times before. They know it hasn’t worked in the past and don’t want to waste more time on it. If only you knew the industry as well as they did, you’d understand why it won’t work.
But you know better! You have a new way to target ads, cure cancer, or create an online community. Your algorithm, data, partner, or approach, give you a distinct advantage. If only they would listen and really focus on what you’re doing instead of being dismissive, they’d understand.
One of you is wrong. But whom?
Every successful entrepreneur saw an opportunity, and asked, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy, “Why not?” They saw something new, something different. They saw a way to create a change. Often this opportunity has been ignored or overlooked by others.
What about the ones who weren’t successful? While there are many ways a company can fail—poor management, undercapitalized, too slow—a common one is not understanding the market. During the 1990s the approach of most dot com companies was to spend lots of money acquiring users and then eventually find a way to become profitable from the large user base. Webvan raised $396M to do just that. But if you understood the grocery industry, you’d know that profit margins are between 1-3%. A company might be able to do slightly better if the delivery costs are smaller than the costs of running a store. Even then it meant the company would have to do tens of billions of dollars in sales at a time when that wasn’t realistic on the internet. Those who understood the industry stayed away. Those who invested didn’t fare well.
Today online groceries are common, but they are done by a handful of major companies. The successful players are backed by large infrastructure systems, e.g., Amazon, Peapod (now under Stop & Shop), or third-party delivery services (e.g., Instacart). All are supported by off the shelf e-commerce systems that are ready made, as opposed to the expensive custom-built ones created during the dot com era. And the market size and trust in online shopping is significantly bigger today than it was twenty-five years ago.
As an entrepreneur you need to listen to every objection you get, especially from those who know the industry. What do they see and why? Think carefully about each objection and ask yourself if you believe that you’re different because of some fundamental difference, such as a tool you have or recent market shift supported by data, or merely optimism on your part. This is where that all important wisdom to know the difference comes in.
Throughout you need the mentality of “I know better” to keep you going in the face of all the rejection, but that ego must be tempered with the humility to always be listening for valid points the industry experts may make. It’s a fine line, and finding the right balance is key. It’s a lesson even non-entrepreneurs can use.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.