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.
We’re regularly reminded in the popular press failure rates of new businesses: 40% of start ups fail in the first year of trading; 70% fail within 10 years; and no doubt there are some figures somewhere which show that an unacceptable 99% of businesses don’t make it to their 100 years anniversary. Shame on them: yet another searing indictment of modern day capitalism, the waywardness of youth and the irresponsibility of the public sector or any other modern ill you care to remember.
The language of failure is however one which needs some early retirement itself. Businesses – human beings even – don’t have a God given right to last forever and there is nothing pathologically or morally wrong with the notion that businesses last for as long as they’re needed – after which they are likely to come to an end. This is not failure but recognising that everything – including businesses – have their time and their space and their role is to inhabit their time-space node, contribute to those around them and when the time and space is right – to gracefully withdraw from action.
Immortality in business life – often referred to as sustainability or legacy – is a seductive concept and, in human affairs, is frequently the cause of great art and music. It is not however the cause of great business: the conceit that your business will last for ever leads to sleepless nights, increasing bar bills and bedroom floors strewn with empty pill bottles. If you can accept that your new start up may peak early, deliver beyond its promise and then burn out as quickly as it started, then you stand a chance of surviving notions of failure long enough to do it all over again with the next love of your life: your next new start up.