The Myth of the Leap
Starting a business - leap of faith

A lot of people dream of starting their own business but don’t. They do their homework, study successful enterprises, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and devour the latest self-help books. All in the hope of finding the secret sauce and the courage to jump. The expectation is that the method, money, and moment will appear as an open door, and all they’ll have to do is jump in. No doubt that does happen . . . sometimes. But mostly, it doesn’t.

Most successful businesses have a dubious start.

A deep failure. A personal loss. Often, in our tech world of innovation, a flawed or misunderstood vision is driven by an insanely obsessed person, much like the deranged medieval soothsayer spouting visions from the future. We dismiss them until we don’t. Then, years later, we read about their sudden success. Sudden to us. A lifetime of pain for them.

You see this most often with musicians and actors. No one realizes the pain and disappointment that came well before they emerged. Maybe we’re not supposed to because it would reinforce the truth every successful business professional knows: “If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

Here’s the truth.

There is a right way to start a business and a wrong way. The right way requires a business plan, a SWOT analysis, and some well-thought-out financial planning. All good stuff. But funny enough, the wrong way often works even better.

That’s the question we should ask. Why do we read so many stories about people with no money, expertise, and little time launching and building a successful business? Is it because it’s so dramatic that it stands out? Or is it because, as the elder philosophers have always said, “Necessity is the mother of invention”? I’m going with that.

Before we get into this blog’s “wrong way” list, you knew it was coming, let’s define necessity when starting a business. 

3 necessities when starting a business

  • First, assess your capabilities for pressure, stress, risk, and failure. I was in denial, thinking I could handle them all before starting our company. 
  • Second, find your ‘why.’ Mine was, I couldn’t work for someone else. I did into my early thirties, gaining skills and knowledge. But my future required freedom. I’m thankful this one won out through the tough moments. 
  • Third, the ability to learn and grow, along with a commitment to service, is necessary. Maybe that’s just me.

So with that, here’s my list for doing it the wrong way:

10 steps for doing it the “wrong” way

1. Just do it.

There is no perfect time. I lost my job in 1989. The economy was in distress. We had two babies in the house, had no money, and needed to replace my income within 30 days. I didn’t have time to write a business plan. I needed an idea that would allow me to “sell” something that could be provided immediately. I decided to do video and audio production. I had some experience, but not much.

2. Find a customer

Instead of worrying about your company name, stationary, business cards, and brand, find a customer. This meant getting meetings with business people. My search began with businesses I read about that were moving fast in expanding markets. My logic, they had to move fast, like me.

3. Ask the essential question: What do they need?

Funny enough, when you focus on their problems and needs, they don’t tend to ask about your experience. They need solvers. Be that person.

4. Stand out.

Talk radio was prominent in the 80s/90s. So, I approached the weakest radio station in San Francisco and convinced them to put me on the air. I did this to get interviews with prospects by creating a daily business show that profiled local business leaders. I became a journalist. I had an excuse for reaching out that satisfied their need for exposure.

5. Energy begets energy.

I adopted my wife and co-founder’s idea that more is better. I over-scheduled every day to meet potential customers. It wasn’t about carefully scoping them or doing research. It was about creating noise, the feeling of action. I discovered the art of “eliminate no’s to find the yes.”

6. Leverage technology.

In 1989, we only had pagers, answering services, and the expensive Motorola “brick” mobile phone. Those were my only investments. I made sure I could reach people, and they could reach me.

7. Get the pricing right.

I learned an important lesson from our first corporate customer. She was the head of sales enablement for a booming technology company called ASK Computers.She asked me to price a project I’d committed to. Sitting there with my statement of work, she slides a blank piece of paper across her desk and says, “Now write a price down that will make me your most important customer forever.” I doubled it. Very soon after, it became clear that my original price would have destroyed me. I got it wrong. An important lesson learned. Your customer is your most significant source of wisdom. Tap into it often.

8. Prepare yourself for the tough times.

You will have dry months—many of them. You will lose an important deal. You or your team will seriously mess up a project, costing you more than you’re billing. Resilience is the key. I remember waking up one morning in the early years of our business in serious short-term debt with no clear path forward. Once I got through the initial panic, I realized no one was going to kill me. I just needed to keep going. “Work the problem,” as we learned from the movies Apollo 13 and The Martian. It’s true in business, too.

9. Reflect.

In your spare time . . . yes, you will have it and it will scare you. Focus on what’s working, what’s not, your brand, vision, and the narrative. Who are you, what do you do, and why does it matter? Answering these questions is the foundation of your business. Don’t rush it. Let it form naturally around real customers doing meaningful work.

10. Get started.

Stop talking about it. Stop thinking about it. Imagine yourself at 70 years old. Ask that old you, “Should I create a business now?” Then really listen. Quantum mechanics is real. The answer will come.

It’s not for everyone.

I’ll stop there and end with this. Everyone can’t work for themselves or start a business. Imagine if everyone did. Who would be left to support visionary founders and build successful businesses? As a co-founder, I am indebted to the people working in our business. And I’ve come to deeply respect those who do the essential rhythmic work of corporate scaling. We need both.

But if you have a constant voice that keeps you up at night, scares you, and challenges you to take the leap, listen to it. Then, accept failure as a probable outcome. As the philosophers often say, “Better to fail than not to have tried at all.” Get to it.


Still curious about starting a business and being a founder? Check out SNP’s podcast, Think Like A Founder, hosted by SNP’s own CEO and co-founder, Maureen Taylor.

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