On Commitment

I heard the term "100% commitment" yesterday.

What does that mean, especially for an entrepreneur?

I think anyone would agree that starting a company means "100% commitment", but I often think it's sort of a loaded term, and often used as an excuse to fall down on your personal responsibilities to others.

First of all, the number itself is quite silly.  100%  Why not 110%?  And what would 95% even be?  Pursuing a biz dev contract but just not signing it?  Or signing it late? 

What about last Friday night?  I had two softball games, one of which was for Return Path's team.  Should I have stayed late at work that night?  Return Path gave us free space.  To me, playing nice with people in an office I'm not paying to be at is just being neighborly, and when you're a startup, you're often going to have to depend on as much free help as you can get. 

Does that make me less committed to Path 101 because I wasn't at my desk?

And if you can't measure committment by hours at the desk, then what exactly do we measure it in?  Personal sacrifice?  I love what I do.  It's not "hard", not matter what time I leave the office, because I'm passionate about the idea.  Sacrifice, to me, would be trying to max out my potential salary by being an investment banker.  (No offense to bankers.) 

Plus, we raised angel money... and so while there's some serious opportunity cost in terms of current cash comp, it's not like I put my house at risk... yet, anyway.  Does that make me less committed because I didn't have to do that?  One thing we told our angel investors is that we were raising so we could focus on this full-time... that having other tech jobs would really make the product suffer.  If we were bootstrapping, and had to get other jobs, we'd be less focused, but with all of our own capital at risk, would be be more committed?  Can you be less focused and more committed?  That makes no sense.

Unfortunately, I feel like way that many people use it is as an excuse to fall short on personal commitments.  We commit ourselves to a job and we think that releases us from our obligations as real people--to family, friends, significant others, etc.  Maybe this makes me less committed, but I am a real person first, entrepreneur second.  I don't see my family as often as I did before, but I still make it a point to see them. 

Same with friends.  I've severely pared down my social life, but I still need to get out of the office and play some ball when I can.  And I will defintely be kayaking at the boathouse, even if its just a weekend afternoon.  I'll stay home Saturday nights to make sure I'm out on the water during the day. 

I'm not shutting myself in a hole to launch this business--if nothing else because its these people and these activities that gave me the support, insight, and inspiration to start this business in the first place.

If nothing else, particularly for a user-centric web service, if you start severing your human connections, you're going to quickly lose the ability to create user value.  You'll lose your initial audience--the people you've been there for and maintained connections to--the ones who will go to bat for you inviting their friends to the service because you showed up at their birthday party--even if you had to show up way late because you were wireframing new features... and you have to leave early because you didn't finish. 

It's the same with love.  Am I an ideal candidate to date right now?  Well, if you need to go out five nights a week at 7PM and spend a ton of money on entertainment, well, no, probably not.  But am I closed off to emotionally connecting to someone?  Far from it.  In fact, in a time like this is when I probably most need that kind of connection--one single person who will care about and support me... that I can go to and share my day with, or escape from it if need be. 

And, in the same way, I want to be with someone who is as equally involved in their own passions as well.  If you walk out at work at 6PM and then have nothing else in your life or don't commit any other effort to it, I won't have much of an interest in that.  Would commiting to someone emotionally make me less focused on my business and less committed to it?  Does entrepreneurship require that you unplug from the rest of the world--sever your connections and cease being open and vulnerable to connections? 

I think every entrepreneur needs to go about this doing it in a way that reflects who they are.  If anything, it's my connection to the world around me that makes me a better entrepreneur.  The back and forth flow of ideas, feedback, support, opportunities--cut those off and then this just becomes a horserace--who can just outrun the next guy. 

Maybe if you're selling some kind of almost commoditized enterprise security software product with a 6 month technical advantage, then maybe you need to run yourself and your horse into the ground, but in a world of disrupted markets,  appropriate execution, and social networks, I believe the lines of personal commitment and commitment to your business should get blurred and are not mutual exclusive.  Did David Karp succeed in creating a great product because he stayed up later than the next guy with the next best blogging platform?  I highly doubt success will be a function of hours worked in his case.

If anything, I see a lot of products and services suffering because people aren't getting out from behind the desks.  They're not living and loving and they're losing touch with the very audience that they're building a product for. 

In a way, I've been committed to Path 101 for ten years, because it's been that long since I started counseling my friends on their careers, running internship and mentoring programs, and a little later starting to teach.  I live out my startup everyday.  If you have me in your life, you get Path 101--they're one and the same...  and in the same way, because I have Path 101, I get my audience...  and need it...   the day I stop interacting with and caring for the people around me is the day this company goes down the tubes.

You're either committed to your life or you're not--you can't slice it up so easily and your career should not prevent you from being a person--it should enhance who you are as a person.


   
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