Mr. Entrepreneur

“Go West Young Man, Go West…”

In 1965 Horace Greeley—entrepreneur, abolitionist, vegetarian, founder of the New York Tribune, which was the first daily and national newspaper in the United States—chimed these words “Go West young man, go West.” As Horace Greeley quipped, “there is a future for you in the West, away from the worn out family farm, urban factories that are like Gulag camps, and bosses who are imbeciles.”

In 1994, Jeff Bezos was working for a tyrannical boss in an investment bank, D.E. Shaw & Co, who blocked his ideas. While surfing the internet, Bezos learned that the web was growing at the rate of 2300 percent a month and he nurtured a secret passion for something called “e business.”

He dreamed the dream of investing in online retailing, but feared his boss would block it. Determined to not let his history of being a corporate executive set the horizon of his future, he decided to pass on his big bonus at the company thinking, “Go West young man, go West.” He and his wife McKenzie packed their VW Bug and, along with their dog Kamala, headed for Seattle. Mackenzie drove and he pecked out a business plan for Amazon along the way, drumming up money from family and friends.

The ecosystem he found for entrepreneurial innovators on the West Coast was as comparatively fertile as the soil of American heartlands a century earlier. There were more highly educated, “creative people,” and talented engineers there than almost any place else in the world. The rest is history.

“Go West, young man, go West,” was echoed in a whole generation of entrepreneurs who headed for Silicon Valley. But today Silicon Valley is a state of mind. It represents the possibility for many people who would otherwise be squelched in a corporate job to find a viable alternative, starting one’s own business or joining in with others who are doing the same.

America is a country whose greatest renewable fuel is arguably not solar, wind, or water power, but an ecosystem for entrepreneurial innovation.

It doesn’t have to be Silicon Valley, it could be anywhere in America, a country who greatest renewable fuel is arguably just not solar, wind, or water power, but an ecosystem for entrepreneurial innovation. On top of that, we live in an open society where people are freed of cast and calling, where the ability to dream bigger, to reimagine the everyday, and to disrupt the status quo is the most important competitive advantage.

So here you are, someone in a leadership role out here on LinkedIn, looking for a better job in a Fortune 500 company, when you should be thinking about starting your own business. As Gary Hamel said in his book on creating companies that are fit for the future and fit for human beings, “Your typical Fortune 500 company today is a nightmare for emerging leaders of talented creative people.” It is highly autocratic and bureaucratic, leaving people very little freedom or autonomy.

As one 40 something executive told me, “I deluded myself into thinking they the grass would be greener on the other side of the street.” His story was that he was miserable working at Coca Cola for a domineering boss, so he put himself in play on LinkedIn and landed a job at PepsiCo at the next run up on the ladder. But he was still miserable there due to all the bureaucratic hoops he had to jump through to get anything done. I have heard different versions of this same story from many people.

When Horace Greeley suggested in the New York Tribune to “Go West” as a way for younger people to escape their situation in the East where they had no future, one of his readers wrote back the following: “That is very powerful advice Mr. Greeley, but it’s easier said than done. The West is a big place, and just where do I go? Just what commercial enterprise or just what kind of farm do I start? Also I am used to my situation, as dreary as it may be.”

The biggest thing you need to start your own business is not ideas or cash, but to believe in yourself.

If you are reading this article, you may be thinking the same kind of thing about the advice being offered here, “If it were that easy, I would have already done it. What company can I start? How am I going to get the money? How will I get through the Valley of Death between coming up with an idea and turning it into a business with customers that produce cash flow?

Here are a few suggestions.(Most of these would be a hell of a lot easier with some coaching.)

1. Dare to dream. Reimagine. Disrupt the status quo.

What is it you are really passionate about? What is it you would really like to do with your life if money were not an obstacle? Here’s a great example. A professional couple from the mid-West visited New Hampshire and decided their passion was to escape the Gulag of their corporate careers and live there. They started a Snowmobile and ATV business called RIDE THE WILDS, connecting a thousand miles of backwoods trails and making more money than they could have ever dreamed on in their corporate jobs.

2. Free yourself of the limits of the person you have wound up being.

One of my coaching clients told me, “My parents were part of the ‘greatest generation.’ They survived the Great Depression, World War II, and achieved success through grit and hard work. I was told that anything was possible, that I could be anything I wanted if I applied myself. Yet somehow I wound up being the person whose possibilities were is limited by the false belief that I couldn’t just strike out on your own and start my own business, because I needed the security of a job in a big company to survive. In fact, I have enough money saved up to start my own business and survive for a year.” Sound familiar? Isn’t it time to free yourself up of needing a sign on your office door that says Vice President, a big salary package to draw on, all those creature comforts?

3. With Colossal Bootstrapping you can finance your business with the customer’s money.

We all love to read about the adventures of people like Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk who create venture-funded, high-tech start-ups and become billionaires almost overnight. Yet I love even more the people with entrepreneurial spirit who create highly successful low-tech businesses without any money by discovering a new niche. (Download my article on Colossal Bootstrapping). One of my favorites is 1 800 Got Junk? bootstrapped by two guys with nothing more than a pickup truck. The company now has franchises all over North America with a work-hard, play-hard culture. They rebranded the whole idea of junk as environmentally friendly by taking almost 80% of collected items and recycling them and keeping them out of land fills.

4. Start a company when you want to buy something you can’t find.

Many great companies were started by people who went shopping for an item they desperately needed and couldn’t find it anywhere. Sara Blakely, after graduating from Florida State, was driving around selling fax machines. To offset the heat and humidity of Florida, she was looking around for panty hose that didn’t have seamed toes or that didn’t roll up her leg after she cut off the toes. She also was looking for, and couldn’t find, panties with a waste band that was slimming. She invested her life savings, $5000, to create a company that could produce what she called shapewear—power panties and power leggings—and today it is a billion dollar firm. Richard Branson recently donated over $700 million to the Sara Blakely Foundation to help women in business.

5. Let the good times roll.

Mark Horowitz of Silicon Valley, recently wrote a book called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The idea of the book is that starting a business can be a hard thing and, if you know that in advance, you won’t get discouraged when you hit the inevitable bumps on the road of life. In fact, you will be in for a great time, if you look at the entire process of escaping a boring job and starting a successful business, not just as something hard, but as a creative challenge that will bring out the best in you. Let the good times roll!

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