(Originally published 2006 in VC Confidential) Resilience is a key theme you will hear about time and time again in the entrepreneurial world. The ability to persevere and bounce back from adversity is part of the DNA of a successful entrepreneur (and VC Sith Lord). During the 1999-2002 period, nearly everyone in the venture and entrepreneurial world went through an historic resilience test. No business model seemed to work, corporations and consumers weren’t buying and Darwin was taking company after company into the grave. While I hope we never see times like these again, I do believe that we will have a downturn in the next two years. With many companies relying on advertising models to support their firms, they will learn how quickly a recession can dent this model.
I remember this period all too well. I remember seriously questioning what I was doing in the venture business where all I seemed to be doing was going to board meetings to discuss why our companies were missing budget, yet again, and how many staff could we lay off. I was working long hours, thinking that if I spent enough time at it, things had to get better…right? I lost 15 pounds from stress and lack of sleep.
During this period, I read a great article by Roger McNamee, one of the awesome investors in the business (he is currently partnered with Bono and the former CEO of EA on a media fund, Elevation Partners). He said that in times of massive macro change, there is little you can do as an individual to change your environment. You can respond by, like Homer, lashing yourself to the mast, and screaming at the on-coming storm. Or, you can use the time to truly understand what is important in your life…family and friends. In fact, he advocated that you will have limited influence on outcomes during macro setbacks, and that these are prime times to increase the amount of time you spend with your spouse and kids.
In short, his framework seemed to be: there are things that you have limited control over and that are fleeting (success at work, social standing, etc) and there are things you have considerable control over (your friendships, your relationships with your kids and wife, etc). Which do you want to tie your image of self and your happiness to? What do you want to look back at and remember that you did?
My response was to start having weekly lunches with my son at his elementary school and taking my daughter to school in the morning. I signed up to coach baseball with them. I spent more effort trying to have dinner with my family and to keep in touch with my friends. Not only did it significantly increase my resilience, but it instilled a different set of operating principles that I still use today. So, my advice to all entrepreneurs is to figure out what is your core foundation, that which is essential to you and which you have some degree of control over. Once you have, connect with it, protect it and use it to keep the rest of your life in perspective. Unleash the mast…