"Can I see a show of hands of anyone here who didn't make a mistake in their 20s?" With those words MonicaLewinsky opened her recent TED talk. Could you keep your hand down?
A mentor once told me, "Age is a terrible price to pay for wisdom." I am launching a new entrepreneurial idea, and it's gotten me thinking about the fundamental difference between a 27-year-old company founder and the 47-year-old company founder I am now.
Hold the Kool-Aid
A 47-year-old entrepreneur has less blind optimism. I'm finding myself trying to prove the concept to myself as an independent, objective entity, before I bend other's ears with it. Maturity has allowed me to imagine the questions others are likely to ask, and that objectivity creates discipline.
At 47 you're more aware not just of what you don't know, but more importantly, what you don't know you don't know. No one wants to be caught in that "DKDK" scenario. At 47 you realize the DK isn't a problem, because by this time you've become a lifelong learner (and if you haven't, I'm worried for you.) At 47 you've hopefully become adept at filling your knowledge gaps, while at 27 you were still drinking your own Kool-Aid. Realism becomes easier, fantasy (or delusion) harder with age, and that's a good thing.
Focus, prioritize, hustle
Three words define what 47 knows that 27 has yet to find out: focus, prioritize, and hustle. In that order. When I was 27, I hustled first. Then on a good day I prioritized. Focus typically came last, if at all.
Focus is the part of any new initiative that requires killing a lot of good ideas so you can stay focused on only the BEST ideas -- those most likely to produce successful outcomes within known parameters.
Prioritize means not just defining what should be done and how, but identifying the business relationships critical to the success of an idea, then initiating and nurturing those relationships. Hustle becomes that enabler of your execution and performance and most importantly, results. Hustle proves its worth only when it follows focus and priority. If you hustle before you focus, you spend a lot of energy, time, effort, money, and resources, to learn expensive lessons.
As a 47-year-old founder, I hopefully have the seasoned maturity to really understand what, given my past experiences, my present circumstances and condition, and my future aspirations, is the wisest thing for me to focus on? What do I fundamentally do well, what am I passionate about, what portfolio of my skills are the biggest asset to this initiative? What is transferable to others, and what is that which only I can and should focus on? At 47, I'm trying to focus first, so that when I prioritize and hustle, it is to maximum effect.
Build value to last
A 47-year-old founder genuinely focuses on building a company that will last, whereas a 27-year-old founder may build one for an exit. The mature entrepreneur knows you need to create value, to sustain value, and to increase that value with every opportunity.
Relationships with a personal board of advisors are a tremendous asset in creating and increasing value. As I pursue my entrepreneurial idea, I'm surrounding myself with a very diverse set of thinkers. I recently visited with a former CFO well versed in business models involving transactions and licensing. In his corporate role at a publicly traded company, internal people seeking resources were constantly pitched him their ideas and initiatives. As someone who has seen hundreds if not thousands of pitches, what can he point to that I haven't thought of?
I went from that meeting to a phone call with the general counsel of a $12 billion company. What could he possibly know about a startup? Maybe nothing, but he has handled 35 acquisitions in the last two years. He knows what's valuable in a company. He can articulate how to build, extract, and package that value. That's what a general counsel of a very large company can help you think about.
With this caliber of relationships on my personal board of advisors, I feel better prepared to identify and solve for my own DKDKs.
Regardless of the size of the company, regardless of the industry, regardless of whether you are in a mature company or startup, your portfolio of relationships is your biggest off-balance-sheet asset. As I pursue my startup, none of the 35 or 40 executives I've reached out to (like the two mentioned above) are in my five-year financial plan. But every one of them could be incredibly influential in my ability to attract and retain a great team. Any one of them could help me get my timing right, which is often one of the biggest success factors in any new initiative.
Without creating unnecessary complexity, putting a personal board of advisors together may be the real difference between how a 27-year-old company founder and a 47-year-old company founder approach their vision. These advisors may not have a vested interest; they may not have an equity position in the company; they may not even have an interest in the business. What they do have is an interest in a relationship with the founder. They see that you can equally be valuable to them, even if they need nothing from you today. These are the people who believe in you today, but more importantly, believe in you as you execute in the future.
My personal board of advisors correct me if I start drinking my own Kool-Aid, enhance my ability to focus, prioritize, and hustle, and help me design a successful value model. At 47, I find building these relationships comes more easily than it did when I was 27. It's amazing how much more I thought I knew then, and how hard it was for me to take the advice of others.
Age may be a terrible price for wisdom, especially when it comes to founding a company, but I wouldn't sell mine to be 27 again at any price.
1) A 47-year-old entrepreneur is better prepared to manage "don't know what you don't know" scenarios.
2) At 47, most of us have the maturity to focus before we prioritize or hustle, and thus we can focus on the actions most strategic to our desired outcomes.
3) A 47-year-old founder genuinely focuses on building a company to last, by building a personal board of advisors who can shore up knowledge gaps and influence the enterprise's success.
David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® -- the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Siemens, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best-selling Relationship Economics -- Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact -- Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at www.NourGroup.com