I didn’t have one of those startups that everyone reads about and becomes an overnight success. My story is very different. It was nearly a decade before there was any traction of any kind.
At first, I was heralded among my five person friend-circle for having the naivety to start a business. Then, over time, the applause slowed to a slow clap. Eventually, to survive, the initial business plan looked very different. When friends would check-in to gauge my success, I’d share the “new business plan” and was usually met with watering eyes and boredom. Luckily my few friends knew I was a nobody and with a self-deprecating comic approach to life, I shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Since we live in a time where everything has to be positive at all times and spin doctored, pivot seemed like a good way to communicate my failures. I’d explain, “Well, I pivoted.” In reality, I was dealing with a wide range of painful experiences from employee fallouts to upset clients to accounting mismanagement to solvent wind downs. Underneath it all was my general disappointment in humanity and people — theft, extortion and the rampant failure of deliverables on time and on budget led to a physical manifestation of the stress.
This story about the willingness to achieve something and the flight to chaos to make it happen; it’s the highs and (mainly) lows of a decade in pursuit of the mission. Not without the deception, anger, sadness, sorrow, self-doubt and reflection. I lost. Lost some more and… then… lost again. Then, one day, it all turned around with a little bit of luck, but mainly perseverance.
All those hard fought lessons prepare an entrepreneur for what was next. Unlike other books, I’m not Bill Gates nor some famous billionaire that changed the world and I’m looking back in fondness and reflection. This is a grittier version of that chaos in the present. I’m here and I’m now. The wounds are still open in many cases.
I think many entrepreneurs are keen to find success and, over time, realize it’s how they define success that is most important. Otherwise, we aimlessly self-inflict pain for an outcome that we aren’t even sure about. So, it’s worth understanding the hellacious chaotic path you are about to endure. Hence, I present you with the Chaos Journey Map.
The Chaos Journey Map is like a treasure map from the classic TV show Ducktales — it makes no sense and you cannot understand what Scrooge McDuck is saying, but he has all the money and you are trying to be like him. After gathering stories from fellow failures and aspiring successful partners, I mapped out the emotional “highs and lows” of the average entrepreneur.
On the vertical axis is the “Entrepreneur’s Emotion.” Emotions are elicited by the velocity and direction of the curve. For instance, after an entrepreneur launches her business based on the idea that she can do something better than someone else. It’s a melting pot of hubris, naivety and belief.
After the launch, her reality sets in — everything is harder than she once thought. The days are long, the pressures on the homefront mount up, the competition is daunting and the out-of-cash countdown clock is ticking. Life is stressful. At this point, it really becomes a matter of self-confidence. She reaches rock-bottom — maybe not immediately, but at some point. Things are bad and oftentimes really bad. But, with hard work, grit and creativity things start to turn into favor. The emotions of relief and hope start to kick in.
Each time we go through the highs and lows, we learn lessons, become smarter and make a self-promise that we will never make the same mistake again. In a similar vein, we learn a little bit more about ourselves. The faster we learn these lessons the less likely we are to fail and more likely we are to find success. One of the main lessons successful entrepreneurs find is how strong we really are. This gives us the confidence and strength to take on the “unknown.” At this stage, this isn’t start-up hubris nor naivety; instead, it’s being a wise and seasoned entrepreneur.
Oftentimes, I meet entrepreneurs who are down and out. individuals who have big dreams and who are nearly there, but just need a little nudge. A little whisper of encouragement. A sign of hope.
Chris is an Environmentalist, Capitalist, Minimalist and the Founder and CEO of Palmetto. An avid hiker, fly fisherman as well as writer. Chris undertakes a series of projects — educational books, film production and charitable activities — to help educate all types of people, young and old, about the importance of climate change and the environment. He lives in San Francisco, CA and Charleston, SC. More can be found on christopherkemper.com