It’s been an exciting week. In the last 7 days or so I’ve entered 3 entreprenurial-pitching-competition-type things, and failed at 2.
Failure #1 was entering the Shell LiveWire pitching contest at the NSEC conference. I didn’t make it through the first round. Failure #2 was Warwick’s Be Your Own Boss contest. I got to the final round, and gave what I thought was a pretty polished pitch. But the competition was really strong (seriously, the standard of student startups has gone way up recently), and lost again. The success was making it onto Entrepreneur First (which is not a business competition, but the application process was similar).
The fact I failed is good. If I was getting a 100% success rate, it would mean I wasn’t trying stuff outside my comfort zone. I really mean that – I’m not saying “oh well, taking part is what counts” just to make myself feel better. I want to win, and long-term I want to improve both my business idea and my pitching skills, so I’m going to enter more of these business idea contests*. But, I can accept losing with equanimity. And if and when I start winning, I won’t sit around and bask in my success, but aim to begin failing at bigger and harder things.
*(Yes, these contests do have limited value, in that winning them doesn’t make you an overnight success. But there is value in the money and publicity on offer.)
It’s like the game Spore. You start off as a tiny creature, being chased by bigger and scarier creatures. But you grow and evolve. Suddenly, you are the big creature, eating the creatures that once ate you. But just as soon as you’re feeling like the most badass amoeba in the pond, you get moved up to a bigger, scarier pond, where you have to start all over again. Actually, Spore is cool in that you don’t have to move up. You can stay at one level and enjoy an easy life snacking on smaller creatures for as long as you want. But playing that way gets boring fast. Alternatively, you can keep moving to ever bigger and ever scarier ponds, and eventually your creatures will be able to explore and conquer distant planets. It’s a good metaphor for life. Evolve or die; up or out.
I was reading The 50th Law recently, a book based on the life of Fifty Cent. Fifty grew up in the ghetto, and quickly realised that menial labour, petty crime or drug addiction weren’t worthwhile. The only decent option for someone in his position was drug dealing. So he became a hustler, but treated it like a 9-to-5 job. Worked hard, didn’t get distracted, kept looking for his escape route. Did well, but he noticed that even succesful drug dealers usually ended up in jail or shot, and decided rap was a better escape route. He began working on improving his hiphop skills, and trying to get noticed by the record labels. Kept failing, but eventually came to the attention of Eminem, and had his big break into the music industry.
He was in a bigger pond, and doing well. Awards, best-selling albums. He could have basked in glory and enjoyed an easy life. But he realised that although he was a wild success by his previous standards, as a musician, he was just a minnow in the music industry. The producers and label executives were the real sharks. So he decided to start his own record label.
And he did, and it was succesful. But he realised that all record labels, even the giants like Sony and EMI, were under threat from the internet. Most were either ignoring it, or trying to fight it, and losing badly. Fifty decided to step up his game once again. He embraced the internet, by setting up his own website. He also diversified, setting up a film production company, a headphone company, and more. He partnered with drinks manufacturer Glaceau to market a new brand of Vitamin Water; when the company was sold to Coca Cola, Fifty pocketed $100 million. The guy clearly has no qualms about making money.
(By the way, I recommend this article which discusses Fifty’s attitude to getting rich)
Now, I’m not really a hiphop fan. I’m more into rock/indie type stuff. And I doubt someone like, say, Thom Yorke would be willing to put Radiohead’s name on a line of soft drinks. More “artistic” musicians would think it crass. Thom Yorke, for example, uses his free time for environmental activism.
It’s pretty noble, and it’s easy to say that people like Fifty should really be using their fame for better things. But, Fifty is using his fame, and his wealth, to do good. He’s partnered with charities and non-profits to fight hunger in Africa.
And here’s the thing. Ability to do good doesn’t just depend on your motivation, but also your resources. The mere fact that Fifty Cent is richer than Thom Yorke means that Fifty has more potential to improve the world. It sounds shallow and kind of unfair that things works that way, but I think it’s true. Bill Gates can try and wipe out malaria, and I can’t. Sure, I could donate my money or time, but it wouldn’t go far.
That’s why I think there’s nothing inherently wrong with chasing money or power, since without them, your ability to do good is limited. Even the Bible doesn’t say “money is the root of all evil”, it says “love of money is the root of all evil”. It’s not a worthwhile end in itself, but as a means, it’s fine.
So: keep failing, keep evolving, keep clawing your way up the food chain. It’s worth it.
(Failure #4: I meant to do a basic writeup about the last week’s events, and ended up writing over 1000 words about Spore and 50 Cent. Oops).