The Entrepreneurs Journey Through Hell – Part #1

Elon Musk was never “certified” to launch and scale a company.

But Elon Musk has gone through more than his share of adversity.  You probably know of the bullying he experienced in school.  When he was serving as CEO of PayPal, he was apparently “the victim of a coup,”  getting fired while he was on vacation.

By mid-2008, having founded Space X and taken over Tesla Motors, his fortune fully invested, was living on borrowed funds.  So when a Reddit user asked, in an Ask Me Anything exchange, how he’s been so resilient, Musk had the perfect response:

“There is a great quote by Churchill: ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.'” 

In case you did your algebra while sitting in history class, Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister who led the British through World War II.  Get it:  whatever bumps in the road you’re going through now was a playdate compared to what this guy faced.

Yet the fact is that launching and scaling a business, short of full-scale war, is arguably the hardest project a human can undertake.  That’s why we titled this article “The Entrepreneurs Journey through Hell”.

Here’s why:

  • Though complex, it’s not just the complexity.
  • Though requiring all the skills a person can acquire — technical, financial, legal, sales, marketing, operations, and of course team leadership — it’s not just the range of skills required.
  • Though the time commitment is enormous and seemingly unending — it’s not just the time commitment,
  • Though you have to risk your reputation, social life, family relationships, and financial well-being — it’s not just the risk you take.
  • Above all, it’s the stress that comes as a surprise to most first-time entrepreneurs.

Stress is due to unplanned, unexpected undesired events.  Things just don’t work out as expected:  competition, egos, unexpected expenses, unexpected delays in revenue, legal challenges, technical failures, recession, changes in technology and demand, and way, way more time invested than you expected — “Anything that can go wrong will, sooner or later,” to paraphrase Murphy.

Yet you as founder and vision master have to get through it all, or else your vision is dust.  Some can handle the stress and adversity, some can’t.  The fact is, and everyone in the investment community knows this, and every entrepreneur should know this, that most founders CAN’T handle it.  Why else do 80% of FUNDED companies fail before investors are fully paid?

So if you want the money, if you want the funding, it sure will help if you’re recognized by investors as the kind of person who never gives up, who can handle the stress and adversity, and keep on going.  Not that this gives you a 100% certainty of succeeding, but it does give you a better shot.

So how does an investor know that’s who you are?  How does an investor recognize you as the one in ten who walks through walls?

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you know I’ve been writing about this for months.  It boils down to “trust” in you — not just trust that you’re honorable and honest, though these traits matter — but trust that you can perform UNDER STRESS, and keep on performing, never folding no matter what you’re up against.

So how does an investor recognize you as one who can be trusted to perform UNDER STRESS?

Normally, investors don’t have a good way.  They look at track record and look either for success under adversity, or, if there were failures, how you handled them.  But this doesn’t really do the job because track record is deceptive.  If you’ve been successful, that might just lead you to handle problems the same way as before, not responding in a new way to new circumstances.  If you’ve learned from failures, how well does that learning apply to today’s situation?  So track record is not a reliable indicator.

Investors also look at the CEO and team in a series of interviews over lunch and in conference rooms.  But naturally, founders like you are on their best behavior in these meetings.  They look good, they sound good, they present well; what’s not to like?  How can an investor really know your resilience through such superficial meetings?  Superficial meetings are not reliable indicators.

So is there a better way?

At Intelliversity, we’ve been looking for that better way for over eight years now.  One major breakthrough we’ve championed is that you can’t do it alone; having a co-founder with complementary skills and aligned values is the best weapon you can muster against the unexpected challenges of outrageous fortune.  You’ll find this well-documented in my eBook Born to Star, a draft of which is available to you on the Intelliversity site.  This is also argued in the excellent book Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters, available on Amazon.

More recently, Intelliversity has joined forces with the co-founder of venture capital firm Shepherd Ventures (George Kenney), one of the most successful VC’s in Southern California, to bring to you another way.  George and Shepherd Ventures have been successful because 1) he bets on the people (CEO and team) as much or more than the product, and 2) he has a way to assess the CEO and team that is much more powerful than just examining track record or listening to presentations.  Here it is:

They call that better way, now fully developed, “Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp.”  Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp will certify you as qualified to launch and scale an innovative business.

It’s called “Bootcamp” because it’s hard to get into and hard to complete.

Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp certifies its graduates to launch and scale an innovative company in today’s world.  Unlike a seminar, Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp is one-on-one with the instructors.  It’s not a group.  Hence it can be completed in six weeks.  Often it takes seven or eight weeks.

The genius behind Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp is that it supplies the expertise needed to launch and scale an innovative business.  A great deal of this expertise is based on two systems that come out of MIT, where a great many undergrads start businesses.  Faculty there determined to provide systems to enable these new-born leaders to succeed even the first time.  About 50% succeed, an amazing achievement given that the failure rate for startups is around 98%.  More information will be revealed about these systems in coming blog posts.

Even more important, Entrepreneur’s Bootcamp reveals and corrects the most important reasons so few companies get venture or angel funding:

1) weak messaging — messaging that fails to excite and is not memorable, and
2) wrong messaging — selling the product and company rather than selling trust (trust in you personally as an individual).

What I want you to know now is that Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp is a two-edged sword.  It gives you as founder (or founding team) expertise in launching and scaling a business, as well as the messaging you need to inspire investors.  This expertise will get you far.  Equally important to the investors who teach it (including George and myself) and observe it is that when you graduate you are “certified.”  What this means is that, because you’ve been able to handle the stressful challenges of this program, we recognize you as someone who can handle the stresses of entrepreneurship and not quit.  This recognition and this certification enable one of three results after you graduate:

  1. We invest in your company ourselves (the least likely outcome).
  2. We refer you to other investors who have the appropriate means and interest.  This referral is trusted by other investors because of the certification and the recognition of your ability to handle this kind of challenge, and the expertise you’ve acquired in launching and scaling a company.
  3. You will locate other investors on your own, and gain their trust because of the certification and recognition of this program.

So far 20 companies have completed the modern version of Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp, with four more in progress as of this writing.  Their success in raising capital is unprecedented.  This is on top of the original 18 companies funded by Shepherd Ventures, and other approximately forty who have been referred to other investors by Shepherd Ventures.

The journey through Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp is full of surprises and improvements to the leadership skills and business models of the participants. As in “An Officer and a Gentlemen” (the 1982 movie about the U.S. Navy’s Aviation Officer’s Candidate School) there will be unexpected events, but in the end, you are stronger for it.

In coming blog posts, I’m going to document and reveal the experiences of the newest participants in Entrepreneur’$ Bootcamp (without revealing names or even gender).  This is going to take place in REAL time.  This promises to be an amazing journey for you and for them.  I hope you stay with it.

Key Takeaway: Great entrepreneurs like Elon Musk never give up. They keep going to hell and back to get to what they KNOW is on the other side. But starting and making a company successful is a huge undertaking and it is stressful. How you handle that stress is critical to your success in several ways. Stress can take you out, make you give up. Even if you can “handle it”, visible signs show up. It can affect your funding. It’s vital to investors that they see you are in for the long haul, stress and all.  That’s where Entreprenure$ Bootcamp comes in – if you can get in. You will be better prepared, more stress-ready and much more likely to obtain the funding you need to grow.