An article on Inc.com made me realized that sometimes we look too far for answers when they are right before us. Before I launch into more movie cliches, let me go on about the article by Thomas Goetz who is the CEO for Iodine, a digital health startup.
He exclaimed on his admiration for plumbers and their panel vans, the ones with with small-business decals displayed on the sides. And I agree. They remind us of how important small and self-made businesses are, and inspire me in my own work. Their drivers are unexpected and valued peers. Window installers, providers of cleaning services, HVAC repair guys, electricians and, most of all, plumbers. These are people who have braved the sometimes unpleasant waters of startup life and actually built a business.
There’s often more to learn from founders with ambitions less grandiose than changing the world. These folks are more concerned with keeping paychecks coming and putting gas in that van. These are entrepreneurs in the old-fashioned sense, who start a business to provide a better life for themselves and their families, rather than to make a killing in an IPO and have books written about them. Once you start looking for them, you see these business owners all over the place, not just driving vans.
They are in many respects bigger risk takers than the Silicon Valley crowd. There’s no fallback job at Dropbox or Facebook waiting for them if their its next funding company doesn’t come around; there’s no one else’s money on the line. On the contrary, these entrepreneurs put their careers and savings at risk every day. They know what it’s like to face down real failure, the kind that comes with personal bankruptcy.
Three key lessons. First, it’s essential that you treat your staff as apprentices, not just as employees. Your team is taking risks just like you and their reward shouldn’t be a mere shot at the big time. Second, there is no safety net if you fall. So you work hard everyday to make a difference to your company. But sometimes people soar when there is nothing to save them if they don’t. Finally, they display sheer effort, determination and resourcefulness. Driven to succeed because if they don’t, the consequences could be devastating to themselves and their family. They hunt around for businesses and are not restrained by what they cannot do. Time is the only thing holding them back from doing everything and they start to priortise on things that make a difference.
I admire these business owners. We look at the techies for inspiration but sometimes, they are just right in front of us.
Inc.com – Launch Driven to Succeed: Getting Inspiration From Plumbers by Thomas Goetz