Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not to fail

Following up on yesterday's post: I recently joined an online community based around the blog OnStartups. There was a recent article there about why startups fail, which reinforced my view. It's not the cash that is the concern, it's the commitment.

Years ago, I ran a landscaping business. It started with a $60 used lawn mower which hung perilously out the trunk of my 1982 Honda Prelude. I knocked on doors and picked up some cash. But I worked to get regular contracts with customers. Each "contract" I acquired, I would go and buy another tool or piece of equipment (a hand pruner, a weed whip, a shovel). Three years later, I leased a brand new Ford F-150, and loaded it with a $3500 walk-behind lawn mower, that could cut an acre of tall grass in under an hour.

The point was, my startup (while never a million dollar business) succeeded. It succeeded because my commitment remained. It succeeded because I spent less than I brought in (though at times only barely).

Now I'm in a different sort of startup. There is much work to do before I have a marketable product. The proofs-of-concept that I'm working on will only show what's possible. With some luck, and a great heaping of ingenuity, I'll figure a way to make those kernels of possibility useful to someone, a way to make them saleable, enough to sustain the business until the next stage.

But what's important at this stage is that I maintain my passion, my excitement, my commitment. I believe in this. I believe in what I'm doing far more than I believe it worthwhile to enslave myself to an academic system that abuses its scholars and students, that overworks them, overcrowds them, underpays them. I'm still sad about that. But I have no regrets about walking away.

I keep reminding myself of why I am here, why I am on my own. This was not my first choice. I had hoped against hope that I could be hired by a university, supported by an institution to continue teaching and pursuing my research; next, I had hoped a possibility would emerge to be hired by industry to pursue research and development in the areas of my interest and expertise. But none of those panned out. Rather than abandon myself, however, I have chosen this path.

I can't say that it is any the worse for my not having chosen it first. Perhaps it's like requesting the daily special at a restaurant, only to be told it's all sold out; Returning to the menu, there's no telling the next choice won't surpassingly delight.

Now to work. My father-in-law has been called to jury duty this week, so I have a hiatus from basement finishing, which I plan to use well for diving into the research and business.

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