Fitzcarraldo was the Werner Herzog film about the entrepreneur Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald who decided to build an opera house in the Amazon jungle by pulling a small boat over a mountain enlisting the help of several thousand Amazonian Indians many of whom died in this doomed venture.
Herzog’s film itself was hardly a smooth business proposition what with lead actor Klaus Kinski threatening to walk out and Herzog himself retaliating by offering to kill Kinski if he as much took a foot outside the troubled film camp.
But Fitzcarraldo – the entrepreneur of entrepreneurs – had, for all his cussid waywardness, an awesome business vision for his opera house: ‘build it and they will come’.
However no one ever seems to have caught sight of our hero’s business plan – he certainly doesn’t refer to it any dialogue that Kinski utters – and the question of who ‘they’ are is never quite clear. Western European opera buffs? Brazilians in search of rarified European culture? Crocodiles in search of food supplied by the tourists who have fallen foul of the myriad of bugs viruses and small goat size anemones which cover the Amazonian forest floor? We are not sure and neither was Fitzcarraldo – and more likely than not, he didn’t really care who they were, as long as they came.
Unhappily for many of us lesser entrepreneurs, ‘build it and they will come’ is as tantalising a proposition for us as it was for Fitz. It has generated its own trails of failed business plans, mad cap ventures, impossible business scenarios and hair brained schemes which look great on paper, even better in film but utterly doomed in the nasty jungle floor of business reality.
‘Build it and they will come‘ is a great motivational force – but it needs to be coupled with an equal and opposite force which says ‘and what do they get out of coming along to your magnificent edifice? And how are you going to get them to come along, especially if your proposal is set in the urban equivalent of the Amazon? And who is they in the first place? Your mum and dad? Nearest and dearest? Complete strangers who don’t know – yet – that their life’s mission will not be completed until they have visited your own personal opera house?’
Build it and they will come has provided some great business stories in recent times – but if you want to avoid the substantial collateral damage of dead bodies on and off set and the spectre of white elephants littering your neighbourhood, then be clear on the who, the what, the where, the how, the when and the why of the ‘they’.
Business start ups come in all shapes and sizes, and frequently not with one entrepreneur leading them but with two bright eyed and bushy tailed zealots expecting to change the business world over night.
Like their mono-counterparts, the entrepreneurial duo have their sights set high, their ambitions unbridled and their expectations off the scale. This is all great material to work with and has the added advantage of two forces working on the challenge that is the start up journey.
However, the problem that the entrepreneurial duo present is that as well as striving together to bring about catalytic economic transformation, they can also get in each others way. They talk at odds with each other about what the business is actually about; they throw agonised looks at each other when one of them mentions a brand that the other one has never heard of; and they bicker and squabble and nit and pick with the best of all married couples.
For that is what they are fast becoming, these entrepreneurial duos: young marrieds who are storming over who takes out the rubbish, whose job it is to change TV channels and why one of them always seems to be worrying about the accounts. And when it comes to meeting their business mentor, the young marrieds haven’t yet learnt enough decorum to keep their underwear clean in public, their shirts tucked in and to speak with one voice: not as a monotone, but as a couple in harmony, working to each others strengths, supporting each others weaknesses and providing interesting contrapuntal harmonies to each others contributions.
If you are going into business together boys and girls, then please make sure your wedding vows are something you both agree with: articles signed up to as statements of pragmatic intent as well as of romantic delusion.
There comes a time in every young business when the cold light of day suddenly comes peeping through the windows of the illustrious entrepreneur who has been tending their new business with the love and care that befits the bright young thing of their imaginations.
The sunshine -welcomed in the real world of cash flows and budgets – is not of the warming variety though; it’s rays don’t contain the healing properties of ultraviolet light or the emotional buzz of the infrared. Instead, this sunshine shows the business up for all its deficiencies. The cash flow doesn’t flow; the market place is saturated with lookalikee businesses who are all struggling against the wind that blows down their alleyways; the business idea is just that – an idea which is not a business but just a bit of a wizard wheeze, dreamt up after too much Stella Artois, Indian takeaways or other toxic dream makers.
The bright young entrepreneur will say to themselves, after this cold shower of sunlight, so, what’s it all about Alfie? Is this a dead horse I’m flogging? An ex parrot I’m trying to resurrect? Or just a business idea that had a short but sweet life and has now outlived its usefulness and purpose in life? Does it matter any more?
And the bright young entrepreneur will recognise that there are just two questions which will provide the answer to that dilemma. Simply, is there any cash in the system? And do I have enough desire in my bones to make this work? If the answer to either of these questions is a resounding Yes, then there is still a possibility that all will come good.
A business without desire but plenty of cash will last for some time, but like the Titanic, will sink slowly and inexorably to the bottom of the ocean. But a business built on desire but without short term cash is not completely impossible; your desire will make up for that shortfall and there will always be a better, golden tomorrow when the cash flows to meet your febrile desires.
But If the answer to both these is no – ‘no cash, no desire’ then the BYE needs to throw back the curtains, let the cold light of day flood their apartment, pack their bags and get the hell out of town. Any further energies on the idea will be a waste of good time, sense, money, relations and sanity.
Read more on the desires of new businesses here: https://drnicko.com/2013/01/20/tips-for-business-start-ups-what-do-you-want-really-really-want/