I remember Daniel Kahneman – winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences – saying, “The good things in life, the major inventions… they all came from people who didn’t know the odds they were facing. If they had known the odds they were facing they might not have done it. So a lot of progress in the world is driven by delusional optimism.” To some, this quote may seem quite depressing, and its overarching message – that the odds are stacked against entrepreneurs – is as valid as ever.
While barriers to launch a business are exceptionally low in this day and age, the likelihood of new businesses enduring into the future, let alone grossing profit margins, are another matter altogether.
I recently celebrated two milestones in my company – entering into a second year, and launching operations internationally – and upon achieving such successes, I paused to ask myself, ‘If I’d foreknown about all of the challenges I’ve faced over the past year, would I have still have launched my company?’ The answer is yes, but it comes with an adjunction; that the biggest challenge – learning to be comfortable with being misunderstood – still plagues me.
It’s a common thread for entrepreneurs to be misunderstood by their peers, and while some romanticise about the idea of being an entrepreneur with motivational Instagram posts, the majority of us have a full understanding of what we are actually carrying day to day. When someone like Kahneman claims that the key trait of entrepreneurs is delusional optimism, I think it’s also important to balance that with ‘critical analysis’. There is no point in launching a business if you solely possess delusional optimism. You also need to have your feet firmly grounded in reality when it comes to accepting what doesn't work, or integrating what needs to work – something that has to happen almost daily.
For me personally, the ongoing cycle has involved me seeking to preserve the core values I had going into operations, while constantly tweaking and pivoting things until they work. The brilliant thing about the agility of the digital realm is the ease at which you can alter something that isn’t working. I am also surrounded by people intent on building my company with me, who are similarly dedicated to tweaking things until they work.
However, there are always going to be people who don’t understand your vision or why you would want to risk everything to embark on a pipedream of a business. I feel like I do brilliant things on a daily basis with my team, but I also make mistakes daily that I have to reflect on. Errors or oversights are never ideal, but they often provide the opportunity for me to think outside the box. It’s often in dealing with mistakes that I have come up with my best ideas and the ones that have taken my company to the next level.
Explaining new decisions, brainstorming ideas, and developing tactics often illuminates the individuals who don’t share my vision, or who have been in the industry so long that they only know one way of doing things. I have been fortunate enough to be supported by some amazing figureheads in the Australian and International business climate, but I have also been heavily criticised by others. I try to listen to both the praise and criticism, and then weigh out what is best for my business, not theirs.
There are so many reasons as to why someone does or doesn’t understand you, and they are almost never personal. I’ve realised that, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if other people understand me. I believe the reason so many ‘wantrepreneurs’ struggle, is because they want to be understood and validated prior to going to market. The key is comprehending and accepting that it’s difficult to lead something that your friends and family don’t entirely ‘get’ at first, but that you know is the right thing for you to be doing. The validation doesn’t come – and shouldn’t – from those around you necessarily; it comes day in and day out growing your company bit by bit.