Monday, December 19, 2011

My Tribute to the Crazy Ones...Never Stop Believing!

Some days I feel like that terrier who has taken hold of your pant leg and won’t let go. Am I crazy? Yeah probably! Do I wonder, on many, if not most, days if I should keep going and at what point do I stop? I get asked that question a lot and the only response I can think of is, “When I stop getting signs to keep going.” I don’t know when I’ll know, I just know that I’ll know. Being an entrepreneur is not for most. It reminds me of the quote that got resurfaced upon Steve Jobs’ death that he and Apple created a Video based on:

Here’s to the Crazy Ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have not respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world – are the ones who DO!

I don’t think I ever fully would have gotten it, if I wasn’t an entrepreneur. The life of an entrepreneur is not always easy, in fact some days it can be downright unbearably gut wrenching and painful…but I am pretty sure, if not now, for sure some day in the future I’ll look back and say “I wouldn’t have changed it for the world!”

That being said, it is not for everybody and it takes a special kind of person, indeed a crazy kind of person, who has a stomach of steel, who can take all the NO’s in stride and keep getting back up and trying again. There are many peaks and valleys in the life of an entrepreneur and most of the time, it is the little reminders and “godwinks,” that keep us going.

I recently had one of those moments when a friend sent the quote from the WSJ obituary of Ted Forstmann. At the 25th anniversary of Forstmann Little & Company (a private equity firm), guests received an engraved silver tray with the quote:

The entrepreneur, as a creator of the new and a destroyer of the old, is constantly in conflict with convention. He inhabits a world where belief precedes results, and where the best possibilities are usually invisible to others. His world is dominated by denial, rejection, difficulty, and doubt. And although as an innovator, he is unceasingly imitated when successful, he always remains an outsider to the 'establishment.'

Words I could not have expressed more perfectly. Over and over in my career, I have witnessed as investors have said NO or clients have looked at me – or others – as if we had three heads...this disconnect between what we as entrepreneurs see and what others can imagine. I am continuously amazed (and even appalled) at those who claim to support entrepreneurs, but turn away the best ideas and champion the known, safer, quantities. Yet later, when those “alien” entrepreneurs become successful, those same people come back around and act as though they believed in them from the beginning, rather than having the courage as the entrepreneurs to provide meaningful support from the start.

I remember breathing a sigh of relief when I heard about Tim Westergren who maxed out 11 credit cards and pitched Pandora 348 times before raising enough capital to build his business – thinking to myself, “Well, I’m not there…yet” (and hopefully, I won’t ever be)!

But I remember reading the book Founders at Work by author Jessica Livingston who quoted Howard Aiken...

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.

Some days I just don’t get it. I feel like I am standing in a room with a total no-brainer and I am jumping up and down and no one can see or hear me, like I am a social pariah or I don’t exist. It is like I am the pink elephant in the room and no one wants to be reminded of that, so they turn their heads in denial or pass me on to the next person like a hot potato. Investors say they want another Steve Jobs' and iPhone but they want it to look like Bill Gates or a Blackberry, something that they know or are familiar with. There is a complete disconnect.

And yet, there are those who when you meet them, there is a moment of recognition. Perhaps it is that acknowledgement of one “crazy one” to another or the recognition of light that you bring. They meet you and they are inspired to help. They reach into their rolodex, they send a quote or other vote of confidence, or other bag of tricks and they support you in whatever way they can! It is those moments, that as an entrepreneur keep you going.

That and the reminder of what you are trying to do. You see us “crazy ones” see things differently. We recognize an opportunity or a window to make things better, to change things and we commit our time, resources and lives to seeing that come to fruition. There is no other explanation for the abuse and rejection we go through – other than a labor of love and a persistent belief, faith and commitment to a better future and possibility for more than just ourselves.

That is how it has been in my own journey. Never in a million years, did I ever imagine it would be this difficult to create a product that could so massively transform the status quo, when the world is crying out for reform on every level and within every institution – business, finance, health care, politics, education, marriage, war, etc. It makes me realize every day how afraid of change people are – even when that change means more light, more hope, more possibility – perhaps even more so because it means just that and they are used to the darkness. Some days I don't understand how it is possible that something that is such a no brainer, could be so hard to convince people of.

Then I am reminded of the game changers before me…Galileo, Einstein, the Wright Brothers…they were scoffed at, ridiculed, even imprisoned…but in the end, they changed the game and they shifted paradigms. They believed they could change things…and they did! And so in my hours of darkness, I remember them and I am reminded to keep believing and I continue be a of the "crazy ones." And I applaud and urge the other "crazy ones" to continue believing, because "Believing is seeing," rather than "Seeing is believing." I encourage you to keep getting back up and to keep on keeping on...because the world needs more of you...the world needs more of us!

You can find me at and twitter @pilarstella.

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