What Darwin Can Teach Us About Entrepreneurship

In the startup world (particularly in Silicon Valley) there is a lot of talk about “pivoting”. This concept has it’s roots in the idea that you may start out with a crap-tastic idea, but with enough product changes and persistence you will eventually hit upon something that rocks.

I agree that one can move mountains with the right amount of determination and the adaptability to change – but I think the series of swivels a startup makes to go from #fail to #epic is more like an evolution than a series of pivots.

DARWIN ENTREPRENEURSHIP

In the beginning, there was an idea…

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Fear of Failure Cure: Utter Ridiculousness

maren kate
This post is as utterly ridiculous as these sunglasses: be forewarned

Go-go dancer. Slighty dark, moderately-witty freelance writer. The world’s worst trophy wife.

These are the only three alternate jobs I imagine when I think about the worst case scenario… failing to find a product/market fit, me giving up, everything going terribly wrong.

Occasionally when I’m lacking creative drive at work I fantasize about my worst case reality – failing my beloved Zirtual – and then of the progression of my 3 “fall back” gigs play through my mind.

After I epically fail, embarrass my family & friends and have exactly negative-zero savings I will start working as a go-go dancer (which is a long shot at best since I’m an awful dancer).

The best I can hope for is they give me a job because I look halfway decent in fuzzy boots and a bikini, the dark lighting is a girl’s best friend and maybe their low on good talent because Burning Man is around the corner.

At the nightclub I’ll meet someone who will feel bad for me (probably because I’m the worst dancer there) and perhaps he needs someone to take care of his kids. With this turn of fate I’ll graduate into my 2nd fall back career of the world’s worst trophy wife…

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Lessons Learned: Solitary Focus, Addictions & Anchors

lessons learned12 months can change a lot, more than I realized or expected. What I thought Zirtual would be a year ago isn’t even recognizable compared to the business it is today. We haven’t really pivoted as much as we’ve tweaked the business model like relentless crack heads. Each “swivel” we’ve made has been based partially on my gut, partially on actual customer feedback and partially on greater trends I’ve noticed unfolding in the market.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes a long the way, I’ve also learned a ton & luck has definitely played a part – as it always seems to – but there are always trends to be noticed.

In this post I want to share some of the insights I’ve stumbled upon in the last year in hopes they may help you as you chase your dreams, try to build a great business or strive for success – in whatever aspect it may be.

1. is for one thing at a time

A year ago I realized I had to make a choice, I could no longer chase 3 or 7 or 11 business ideas at once. I had to focus on one, just one, and put all I had into that if I wanted to build something great. This isn’t a particularly new idea, Paul Graham (who I have started avidly reading) describes how the thing that sits at the top of your mind will in many ways dictate the way your life unfolds – whether it be the desire to find a mate, the desire to build a great company, or insecurities about your body.

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The Butterfly Effect of Inertia

butterfly effectWhen I look back over the last two years of my life (documented on this blog for better or worse) I can’t help but seeing the ridiculously purposeful randomness of each step.

I can look at a friendship, connection or business partnership that I’m currently in the midst of and trace it back through 10, 100, 1000 actions taken over the last few years. Each action exponentially effects the actions and outcomes in the future.

This butterfly effect is caused by three factors:

  1. Constant action
  2. Relentless persistence towards a worthy goal
  3. Constant connecting

Constant action

The difference between the last 2 years of my life and all the years before can be boiled down to one thing: action. Since the most pivotal trip of my life (going to Italy for a month to visit my bestie spring of 09′) I have taken bold action in an escalating fashion that has brought me far closer to my goal of becoming self made than a normal trajectory would have.

Constant action though is not necessarily fun, it often goes against one’s better judgment and 9 times out of 10 it ends in failure. But as good ole’ Winnie said:

I never worry about action, but only inaction. – Winston Churchill

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The Unbearable Lightness of Business

unbearable lightness of beingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being opens with a philosophical discussion of lightness versus heaviness. Kundera contrasts Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal return, or of heaviness, with Parmenides’s understanding of life as light. Kundera wonders if any meaning or weight can be attributed to life, since there is no eternal return: if man only has the opportunity to try one path, to make one decision, he cannot return to take a different path, and then compare the two lives. Without the ability to compare lives, Kundera argues, we cannot find meaning; where meaning should exist we find only an unbearable weightlessness. – summary of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Starting a business has changed my life.

It has opened the door to a new kind of happiness that I didn’t realize existed, yet I often worry it’s too good to be true. I feel so much purpose, so much euphoria from putting my all into my company – but would it have been possible if I hadn’t of experienced 25 years of feeling utterly out of place beforehand?

Vegas is hotter when you’ve experienced snow

Everyone says Vegas it “hot” but when you’ve spent a majority of your formative years there, you tend to lose touch with what “hot” really is. Is 90 degrees hot? Is 110? I could pretty much walk around at any time during the summer in my hometown and feel fine – I mean it was warm – but I didn’t get what everyone was bitching about.

Then I moved to Reno for school and experienced my first winter with snow actually accumulating on the ground. It was COLD. I hadn’t realized what “hot” was or what “cold” until that point… when I went back to Vegas the following summer I was drenched in sweat & bitching up a storm.

I had no perspective on temperature because I grew up in a place where every season was just another shade of freaking-hot. This random anecdote serves as an explanation for another random anecdote…

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SWF Seeking Technical Soulmate

maren kate
SWF = Sassy Woman Founder

As I write this I am watching an epic pigeon battle outside of my window… though it has little relevance to the topic of finding a CTO for my company Zirtual the pure determination with which extra dirty pigeon fights his much larger opponent is akin to the real-life uphill battle we’re waging to find a killer technical co for our company.

It’s hard, but so what?

One of my favorite quotes goes like so:

“Anything in life worth having is worth working for.” – Andrew Carnegie

This sentiment couldn’t be more true and people who don’t realize it’s magnitude scare me a little. Currently the market in San Francisco for technical team members is hotter than a $2 pistol on the Fourth of July. This is partly because of the booming tech economy in the Bay Area & partly due to the fact that great talent can often find cushy jobs with big paychecks at more established companies – so why take a chance on a scrappy startup?

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The Purpose of Purpose

purpose
My purpose last weekend was taking a hike on Angel Island

There are two types of people in the world: people who have a solid purpose and those who drift through life without any real direction.

Within these two groups of people you’ll see everyone from business men in power suits, to mother’s nurturing their infants – and often the people with purpose aren’t the ones you’d immediately guess.

In the amazing audio of The Strangest Secret Earl Nightingale explains how the happiest, most successful people in the world are those who know their purpose in life and are avidly pursuing it. Whether their purpose is to run the best gas station in town, have the happiest marriage possible, or build a billion dollar company that changes the world.

Above all be of single aim; have a legitimate and useful purpose, and devote yourself unreservedly to it. -James Allen

The beauty of purpose is that it evolves over time as you mature and change. Your purpose in college could be making all A’s & graduating with honors, your purpose after college could be landing a job & climbing the corporate ladder to position X, your purpose in your mid thirties could be to find life partner and settle down – nothing is set in stone and purpose is wholly dependent on the person’s mind it sprouts from.

The most important part of purpose

… is simply to have one. To know yours and to truly love the goal you’re aiming for, even if it takes a lot of swings before you hit the ball out of the park.

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Where Did You Come From? Where are You Going?

where are you goingI’ve realized in 3 years of going all out towards my goals that there are two things that really matter when heading towards your destiny:

Know where you came from
Know where you’re going

This may seem like simplistic advice but it’s actually been the hardest two things for me to come to terms with, I’ll explain why and how I believe nailing these two down can radically alter your life.

Know where you came from

What does knowing where you came from mean? Well it’s more complicated than just “I was born in Texas” or “I went to school at such n’ such U.”. Knowing where you came from is getting up close and personal with the things in your past that have made you the person you are today… both good and bad.

There is a good deal of self psycho-analysis that goes along with really knowing where you came from. Pick up some books, watch some videos or visit a shrink and try to break down what triggers in your past are contributing to the person you are today.

My biggest fear was facing the stress in my childhood that has made me into the driven person I am today who is obsessed with reaching her goals. I thought that if I admitted that as a child I had faced a lot of stress and unhappiness I was dealing a blow to my parents (who were always amazing to me and my brother). So instead I held onto it until finally plagued by nearly paralyzing OCD at the age of 23 I went to see a therapist.

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No Startup is an Island

no startup is an islandStarting your own business can be a lonely, lonely time. Often you’ll spend long hours brainstorming your idea, creating the first prototype (physical or virtual) and if you’re lucky you’ll meet a business soul mate who becomes a partner or co-founder.

For most of my work-for-myself career I’ve been alone, no co-founder, no partners and it was always difficult.

Not only has it taken an emotional toll (we really are social creatures) but I did everything in my business from the highest level (like forming a new marketing campaign) to the lowest level (like researching spam filters for my email account).

Even early on I knew there had to be a better way…

Then one day I discovered outsourcing and slowly began adapting to delegation as a way of life. Two years later I switched gears from a social marketing business to building a company that connects busy people with virtual assistants.

I can’t imagine where I would be if I hadn’t learned to let go of the unimportant “reigns” and focus on the 20% of my day that really matters. I’m just too spastic and ADD to be able to focus on boring crap for any period of time (unfortunately this crap has to be done regardless).

Anyways, this post has been a long time coming. In it I will do three things:

A) I’ll try and convince you why no matter how small of a startup you are, you need some help

B) I will break down all the ways you can un-island-ize (my word) your business

C) I will try and get you to let us at Zirtual find you that perfect assistant who will make all your worldly cares go away.

People often ask me “how I make money online”, well I can tell you one thing – it’s not this blog, it’s my business. Support me, support my business. It’s as simple as that – or you can just send me lovely notes, I also love that. Regardless, this is a lesson that every would-be entrepreneur and full blown business owner needs to hear… no startup is an island.

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Don’t Fear the Change

managing change Last fall I decided that I needed to move out to San Francisco. Last April I actually signed a lease. Between mid-November and early March I traveled back and forth from Reno to the Bay Area twice a week (via trains, planes and automobiles) taking shelter in everything from Airbnb rentals to hostels.

This was quite easily the most uncomfortable 4 months of my life and it all could have been easily avoided if I had just made a firm decision, embraced change and picked one path versus straddling the fence of indecision.

But noooo….. someone (this gal) was too frightened of change and unwilling to let things go to take a plunge that would change her life.

Don’t wait as long as I have

Have you experienced this in your life? I believe it’s one of the most common threads that bind humankind,the fear of change and our desperate desire to cling to what’s considered “safe”. But safe, comfortable choices rarely become the stuff of legend and weak people rarely make history…

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