***Disclaimer: So, sometime on Tuesday afternoon, I forgot that I’d dropped an Aleve-D two hours prior and threw back two REAL Sudafed red devils. Having been plague-ridden for nearly a week, I just wanted the congestion to subside. What resulted, however, was a thorough understanding on why kids cook this shit down to create crystal meth and an evening filled with productivity on most offensive levels. And, this blog post.
The setting is Houston, Texas. The subject, a certain then-bleached-blonde adolescent girl with oversized glasses (complete with purple tint) and a penchant for social and political issues. For nearly five years, I immersed myself in political studies and competed in Lincoln-Douglas debate, extemporaneous speaking, Mock Congressional Hearing competitions, and every political science/history fair I could get my hands on. AP U.S. History and Political Studies classes meant that I was dropped into a sea of upperclassmen studying the same issues. They wouldn’t ask me to Homecoming, but they sure as shit would clammor to sit next to me on test day. And in those competitions? I won. My dream was to become an attorney and specialize in international law, and these were the stepping stones for an awkward, geeky girl to make her mark on the political systems she admired so very much.
Flash Forward to 2012
So, I ditched the purple-tinted glasses and never went to law school. I turned out to be a writer and an entrepreneur – which is precisely where I should have ended up. Hell, it only took me 17 years of living a life filled with Shouldas, Couldas, and Wouldas to get here. My passion for social and political issues has never waned, however – and I can definitively say that everything about this election year irritates me to no end. My country’s political system is in shambles – a complete joke to outside observers – and I have to listen to dribble on the State of the Union Address that spews useless statements like, “The American Dream is in peril.”
Really. Which one is the American Dream? The one where I’m dressed up like a cheerleader in front of the Senate building with a felt USA blazing across my breasts? I really like that dream…but I digress.
I would think that, as a country, we’ve gotten past the Hooverisms and dispelled the myth that there will be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Who are we as people and a nation to believe that we are entitled to anything and that dreams are things achieved with anything other than ass-breaking work, blood, sweat, and tears? As an entrepreneur, I don’t get entitlement. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck and had my 10-for-$1 Ramen days. I’ve failed miserably after a load of ass-breaking work. No one handed me anything and I wake up each day grateful for the people in my life and what I’ve earned.
Yeah. Earned. Earning things for myself – the goal-setting and subsequent accomplishments and failures – that’s my American Dream.
And given the work that I do every day with the startup community and other entrepreneurs, I’m overcome with one thought and one thought alone:
That my entrepreneur can kick your politician’s ass. Period.
And it got me thinking: what do entrepreneurs know better than politicians? Seems to me it’s most everything.
I can’t log in to YouTube these days to watch a Van Halen video without some mudslinging GOP ad bogarting my bandwidth. You won’t find that in the startup community. Entrepreneurs who fuel successful startups understand integrity to the Nth degree and skip the dirty trash talking because they know what’s important: building a product for the people who will love what you’re building. Entrepreneurs don’t rise because they bash the competition with paid ad space. They rise because they’ve built a product that solves a pain point for a certain audience.
Let’s face it: we all have a one-night stand that we’d rather forget. A phrase we wish had never come out of our mouths. Pieces of our lives we’d rather keep private. Entrepreneurs put their companies and products first and themselves second – just ask any founder’s wife/husband/kids. Our political system wants to muckrake, dragging everyone’s personal lives out into the open and the politicians are the first ones to play the blame game. They’d do well by looking at what builds successful, industry-leading companies that are putting our country on the map as contenders in the global technology space – it’s a commitment to integrity and knowing that your product speaks for itself. For entrepreneurs, it’s not about pushing someone else down that brings success as it is with politicians. Great entrepreneurs believe that they can only succeed if the people surrounding them succeed, as you can’t build anything in a vacuum. And you can’t forget your audience.
As I sit and watch the epic tardsparring that is the caucus and primary season this year, it’s evident that the GOP candidates aren’t interested in anything but their own individual agendas. For people who have committed to a life in public service, they seem to have forgotten the “public” part of that equation.
Plain and simple, entrepreneurs understand that their audience is the only reason they have a business to begin with, and that every business decision they make must be proven to add value to that demographic. Politicians? Be it a kind of shitty truth, but it is a rare politician who remembers that the people behind the votes are the reasons they get to serve in the first place.
When’s the last time you went to the website for an emerging startup – one getting noticed and building a buzz – and you had no bloody idea what the company did or why the hell you should care?
That’s because it doesn’t happen.
Entrepreneurs (and great PR professionals as well) understand that when you try to say 83 things, you say nothing at all. The startup world is based on solving complex problems in an elegant, seemingly simple fashion – even if there is a basement full of code monkeys hammering out Ruby-flavored splendor to make that simple solution appear simple 18 hours a day.
Politicians are adept at taking something simple and bastardizing it through riders, lobbying, and self-interest. The resulting product is never one that the American public can understand. And if you doubt me, why don’t you check out all of the Medicare updates? Seems that folks shouldn’t have to rifle through a Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D in order to figure out how and what is covered. If a startup did that with their product messaging and documentation, they’d fall flat before they ever had a chance to soar.
Q: How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
Politician’s Answer: It would appear as if the rider on this Lightbulbs bill supporting tax breaks for corporate environmental initiatives is prohibitive to the actual changing of the lightbulb due to some loophole about an endangered species that may or may not come into contact with said lightbulbs. Therefore, it seems the only logical move is to add an additional rider removing the three-toed sloth from the endangered species list, which will free up approximately $600,000 annually, thus making it possible to procure a lightbulb and send out RFPs for government-approved contractors to complete the work roughly 24-26 months following bipartisan acceptance of the legislation.
Entrepreneur’s Answer: Why the fuck are you still using lightbulbs? I know at least six companies with better products. Let me introduce you to them.
Killing Your Darlings
Out political system is brilliant at heaping shit upon shit when shit doesn’t work. Our public education system and social welfare programs are but two examples. Politicians keep applying laws and acts on top of laws and acts until the original legislation’s intent is lost in the noise. The process fixes nothing. It simply creates more problems. Which, of course, will be solved by layering more legislation on in search of a solution when the entrepreneurial community actually holds the answer.
Entrepreneurs understand the value in killing your darlings. Great entrepreneurs have failed – and miserably – on multiple occasions. With each failure, they learn to accelerate the failure process so they can get on with the business of things that actually work instead of being burdened by the things that don’t. You’ll never see a successful startup that’s a Joe’s Mortuary and Fine Sausage Emporium. You’ll see focus. Commitment. And if it doesn’t work, entrepreneurs are standing by with a bottle of kerosene and a BIC lighter to burn the motherfucker to the ground.
There’s much in this country on the political and legislative front that needs a good burning to the ground – and Washington needs a few more entrepreneurs to help them get over the fear and make the leap.
And So It Comes Down to Business
I don’t understand the vitriol directed at Mitt Romney (disclaimer: NOT a supporter) for his experience in the private equity sector. Well, I suppose I can if I figure in that the majority of the US population doesn’t understand what private equity firms actually do. Their goal, in many cases, is to take an ownership share in failing companies and turn them around so they’re profitable again. For the financial sector, they’re the ones that set containment fires. Some things in a PE-owned company burn to the ground so that others have a chance of succeeding. That means downsizing, or in unpretty terms, layoffs. JOB LOSS. While you might not like it, it’s good business. And it works. And yes, people make money from it. (Oh, the horror…)
Our government is bloated. Our nation’s legislative record is bloated. And we could do with an entrepreneurial infusion to lean-up our nation’s infrastructure. Great entrepreneurs know that good business can only be done when you put the foundations in place to support growth. And now, we’re a nation stymied by our political obesity – as we’ve overburdened the frame our Founding Fathers built.
And before you launch into something like “times are different in 2012 than they were in 1787” – no shit, Sherlock. Really? But that doesn’t mean that our nation is even remotely prepared to do good business – the business it’s tasked with: Serving its citizens. Entrepreneurs know that lean companies are more nimble and successful in the long run – a lesson that our nation’s politicians are loath to understand. I think Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup should be mandatory reading for anyone elected to public office.
So that’s it. It’s all I’ve got. And perhaps the title of this blog wasn’t really accurate in retrospect. My entrepreneur won’t ever beat up your politician. They’ll just quietly create a better product based on solid business principles that will put you out of business.