Wit & Wisdom

Game Changers & Tales of Triumph and Woe

Entrepreneurs: Pirates in the Arena

CJ Westerberg, October 17, 2011 9:14 AM

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"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . .because there is no effort without error and shortcoming . . . "

                                                                     -Theodore Roosevelt

Editor's Note:   Originally posted on TechCrunch, and is due to be a classic in the entrepreneurship lexicon.
What does this have to do with education?  Do our schools promote these values and traits in our students
(ie. the ability to fail, the freedom to create, where effort and perseverance are essential?) 
                                                                                                 - C.J. Westerberg


Chris Dixon,  The Pirate in the Arena

by Michael Arrington

I've written many times before about the difference between a true start-up founder and, well, everyone else. Israeli investor Yossi Vardi often quotes Theodore Roosevelt in a 1910 speech about "The Man In The Arena":

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I used a lot more words to more poorly describe the same thing in my Are You A Pirate post
last year.

I don't care if you're a billionaire. If you haven't started a company, really gambled your resume and your money and maybe even your marriage to just go crazy and try something on your own, you're no pirate and you aren't in the club.

That thrill of your first hire, when you've convinced some other crazy soul to join you in your almost certainly doomed project. The high from raising venture capital and starting to see your name mentioned in the press. The excitement of launch and- gulp - customers! and the feeling of truly learning something useful, you're just not sure what it is, when the company almost inevitably crashes and burns.


Investor and entrepreneur Chris Dixon did a better job describing this in two paragraphs than
I did in 21 paragraphs. In a post today titled There Are Two Kinds Of People In The World
he doesn't quite match the eloquence of Roosevelt, but the raw power of his writing makes
up for it:

You've either started a company or you haven't.  "Started" doesn't mean joining as an early employee, or investing or advising or helping out. It means starting with no money, no help, no one who believes in you (except perhaps your closest friends and family), and building an organization from a borrowed cubicle with credit card debt and nowhere to sleep except the office. It almost invariably means being dismissed by arrogant investors who show up a half hour late, totally unprepared and then instead of saying "no" give you non-committal rejections like "we invest at later stage companies."  It means looking prospective employees in the eyes and convincing them to leave safe jobs, quit everything and throw their lot in with you. It means having pundits in the press and blogs who've never built anything criticize you and armchair quarterback your every mistake. It means lying awake at night worrying about running out of cash and having a constant knot in your stomach during the day fearing you'll disappoint the few people who believed in you and validate your smug doubters.

I don't care if you succeed or fail, if you are Bill Gates or an unknown entrepreneur who gave everything to make it work but didn't manage to pull through. The important distinction is whether you risked everything, put your life on the line, made commitments to investors, employees, customers and friends, and tried -against all the forces in the world that try to keep new ideas down - to make something new.


Entrepreneurs take note, and bookmark his post. You'll want to read it and take heart in the dark hours of your startup's life.

In honor of Steve Jobs - the quintessential role model for entrepreneurs everywhere.
RIP - October 2011


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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
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