It’s a tough business being a startup, you know? Most of the world has very little idea of what it takes to get something significant off the ground and the amount of energy required to move at an incredible velocity (and sustain it). The physical, mental, and emotional hurdles that must be overcome every single day is nothing short of exhausting.
And it requires enormous, herculean-levels of effort. Sometimes this is displayed through marathon coding sessions for days and weeks on end; your fingers and hands brittle from keypresses.
Or sometimes it’s displayed through discrete key decision-making moments, like hopping on a plane at the last minute for the chance at meeting someone important or to score a huge game-changing deal. The startup landscape is littered with these stories and a select few may eventually become the stuff of legend (or at least a great story).
And let’s not even start with capital and fundraising — the consistent rejection notices can be tough to swallow even when your pitch is seemingly flawless. I don’t think I’m alone here, but, since your startup venture is very much your life and consequently, your identity, the dismissals can feel deeply personal and hard-hitting — it can feel as if they have rejected you, not just your crazy idea.
(By the way, if you’ve figured out to create powerful mental boundaries and somehow isolate these emotions objectively, I’d love to know your secret…!)
But you press on, you have to. Otherwise it’s probably better that you quit now than spend another moment doing something you don’t really believe in, right? No one likes to waste time.
Steve Jobs is one of my heroes and I miss him a lot. The biographies and movies have attempted to do him justice but none of them, at least for me, have captured the essence of who he was and what he was able to do for not just an industry but the world. I’m an unabashed fan.
In the same way, I’m enjoying the very rare and unique opportunity to watch Elon Musk do what he does. Steve’s passing brings context and perspective to this opportunity: You see, we all get to to observe a person who is entirely committed to a future vision, a vision much bigger than what any of us could ever fully appreciate, comprehend, or create.
Said another way, I feel fortunate to watch a man move an entire industry forward, to fundamentally change the way that we act and behave, and to experience the raw power of technology grossly applied. I “missed” a lot of those moments with Steve and I’m committed to not miss those with Elon.
And this isn’t because I necessarily want to be Steve or Elon or Bezos or any of the many incredible business leaders that we have among us — I just want to enjoy the opportunity to watch the very best that we have do their very best work and, perhaps, glean a few things from them as they perform. If I can pick up a few scraps from their proverbial table of genius then I imagine I’d be better off for it.
A few years ago Elon gave a talk at Stanford and he spoke for nearly an hour about his thoughts on Tesla, SolarCity, and SpaceX. There was a lot that was great and it’s definitely worth a listen, but there was a moment that really captured my heart and my attention.
Elon first shares a quick thought about conviction and if you weren’t paying complete attention you’d miss it — it almost feels flippant and understated:
Yeah, but, I just thought that these things needed to get done and if the money’s lost, okay, it’s still worth trying.
You could probably sit all day on that comment and then, if you’re brave enough, you can dare to ask yourself the extremely difficult question about whether or not you are doing something that you feel needs to get done.
Are you? Do you feel it deep in your bones? And are you willing to put it all on the line to see it become a reality?
It’s always a bit disconcerting to realize that most (if not all) of us know whether or not we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Most of us know, in our hearts, whether we’re wasting our time or whether we’re executing against the things that we were meant to be doing — we can easily deceive and lie to ourselves about those things but in our heart-of-hearts we know the real truth.
Elon Musk doesn’t stop there though — he shares his vision for what the future will hold and why he feels so strongly about where he is leading his team at Tesla:
I mean, I think there’s a fundamental good that Tesla can accomplish — the acceleration of the inevitable, which is electro-transportation.
Elon believed, way before most of us every did, that electro-transportation was not just a possibility for our future but an inevitability.
Tesla, with Elon’s leadership, would get all of us there faster (and we’d all benefit from it).
During the toughest moments of building my last company I had to hold on to the very few-yet-important and fundamental truths that allowed me to continue to put one foot in front of the other. And I’ve been starkly reminded with my current company building efforts that this is the only way startups not only prove that they are, in fact, a real startup but how they transform into world-changing companies.
At TOMO, we believe that a truly paperless world is inevitable. As technology increases and our gravitation toward more complex and deeper use of computer automation is adopted, it just makes sense that the manual processes that we experience today will become a part of history tomorrow.
We also believe that the road toward obsoleting paperwork of all types (e.g. hiring and employee administration, financial documentation, physician and patient intake processing) is a long and difficult road, both technologically and in terms of gaining mass acceptance.
The appeal isn’t difficult to capture, explain, and enthrall those who will listen — I mean, who doesn’t want to be able to walk into a doctor’s office and instantaneously completely any and all paperwork as simply as Apple Pay or Google Wallet?
With the click of a button all that paperwork should just be automatically (and magically) completed. This future isn’t hard to imagine and we’d all love for it to be true.
But, unfortunately, not as many understand the distance that needs to be covered and the gigantic gaps that need to be filled in order for that inevitable reality to become true. I imagine Elon faced the same type of challenges and questions:
So… Elon… how are you going to do that?
“How” we’re going to get there, for many people, is just too difficult to assimilate into something cohesive and understandable. I mean, when you’re building something that no one has ever really done before there are, by consequence, no existing models for you to copy or borrow from! That’s a tough mental hurdle to overcome, even for the craziest of entrepreneurs.
Building a truly paperless world is a big idea, a really big one. It requires a huge imagination, an ability to see way beyond the current state of things. Like any good startup we’d love to work with and partner with those that are also able to see that future — they are few and far between. It’s easy to say that you’ll invest in “moon shots” and hard to actually do it.
This is why watching Elon do what he does with the vision that he has for the future is so encouraging. His history of self-financing his vision when very few people would is a testament to his long-term vision for what is now generally understood as inevitable — he just saw it decades before all of us.
With TOMO I feel the same way about an inevitable yet fast-approaching future. This gives me courage, resolve, and it breeds resilience when faced with criticisms and rampant doubt. Our efforts to automate human capital by utilizing blockchain technology is different, in every sense of the word.
But I’ve got my own personal horizon line — there’s no way that my 9-year old daughter, 7 years from now (when she’s 16), should ever have to manually fill out a I-9 and W-4 form via pen and paper to get a job; instead, those administrative tasks will be automated, magically, based on an idea and a technology that her father was proud to build.
We’ve just got to get there faster; I want to accelerate the inevitable.