One Lesson Every Entrepreneur Must Learn

By Mark McClain
entrepreneur

Every entrepreneur knows starting a business is not for the weak. Nearly half don’t make it to five years, and even fewer make it to the ten-year mark. And every successful business can look back on their history and recall moments where they could have quickly put the nail in the coffin too.

Just look at some of the biggest household brands in history. Stakeholders of Walt Disney rejected the concept for Mickey hundreds of times, and despite wild success with early films like Pinocchio and Snow White, debt mounted. FedEx almost went under but was saved by $27,000 in blackjack winnings (something I wouldn’t recommend as a fallback for struggling entrepreneurs). And let’s not forget how Apple faced more than a decade of financial loss.

My point is, nobody is immune to the fragility of business. Even in the best of times, it is a challenging, non-linear voyage and rarely (if ever) pays off overnight. Now let’s add that this year has been particularly challenging for new and old businesses alike.

But the one commonality you will find between almost all businesses that make it out alive is this: when challenges come, make like a buffalo and run toward the storm. In nature, when a storm rolls in, most animals run away from it or hide. But, for some unknown reason, buffalos run toward the oncoming storm because they intuitively know that’s the quickest way to get through it.

I learned this lesson nearly 15 years ago in the early days of SailPoint during one of our first significant experiences with a potential acquisition. We were well on our way to a successful transaction – or so we thought.

We thought we had reached that big deal – the one that would seal our success forever. But that isn’t what happened – the deal blew up at the 11th hour. It was a rough patch, a real “storm,” and it severely rattled most of the team. Like I said, building a business isn’t usually a linear, neatly packaged story. But because we ran through that storm, we came out on the other side stronger and more resilient than ever. About ten years after that, we rang the bell on the NYSE during our IPO.

As we close out this year, a year of many storms, the one lesson to learn early and remember often is this: when you see a storm, don’t freeze or run away – run right at it, get through it quickly.  When you do, you’ll find that you’ve probably learned some great lessons and are even more ready for what’s next in your entrepreneurial journey.