Beauty Can Be Brutal

It's easy for an entrepreneur to fall in love with a new idea, before any of the details are known. What makes some entrepreneurs successful is that they stay in love, even after the details reveal themselves. The new idea might be a new piece of software, or a new process, or even a new industry... it's the thing that gets sketched out on the proverbial cocktail napkin, and that sketch is almost always exciting. All the promise, all the hope, all the vision! It's the panoramic view of a beautiful future, like a vista from the edge of the canyon as you come around a blind corner—the one everyone gets out of their cars to snap a photo of, before venturing into.

From that high vantage point, the beauty isn't marred by the brutality that awaits, still hidden in the valley below. From the edge of the canyon, you can't see the predators attacking their prey or the prey fighting back. You can't see the mess an eagle leaves after swooping down to catch its dinner. You can't see the coyote after it's been sprayed by the skunk. You can't see the brambles, the ankle-breaking stones on the shore of a shallow stream, the stinging insects in their underground nests.

The cocktail napkin, like the vista, is too far away from the details to reveal them. You can't see a competitor's effort to backstab you while promising a partnership. You don't yet know the disappointment of watching a marquee client's program suffer after a small-minded executive has swooped in to leave his mark on your meticulous roll out plan.

A lot of would-be entrepreneurs want the canyon to be as beautiful up close as it is from far. It's not. And that always gritty, sometimes brutal reality demands respect. It is not to be underestimated.

One investor warned me, "We're all grown ups. Make the decisions you have to make. You don't have time to worry about them." But I did worry, and my cofounder did, too. So many decisions were tests of our resolve. Many presented themselves as existential.

Hopefully, life in the canyon doesn't stay that brutal. Unlike a wolf who is always just a couple of days away from running out of food, start ups are able to move off the edge; we can store "food" for the future. But then there are times when life absolutely becomes that brutal, when the choices become that stark. Entrepreneurship is not always pretty.

For those willing to battle it out in the canyon, then one day, you may just reach the other side. Cut, bruised, bitten, and alive, you look back at the vista. And you see it all, including all the brutality that used to hide in the details, and with respect for what you've learned, you allow the sight to be beautiful once again.