Friday, May 29, 2020

Two Things Old Entrepreneurs Can Do For New Entrepreneurs in a Pandemic

Crises are all the same because they are all different: Something has happened that has never happened before.  It’s worse than anyone could anticipate. There’s no obvious solution—and some people doubt there is any solution at all.  We are doomed.

So it is with the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are a seasoned entrepreneur, perhaps one who is mentoring students in an incubator or influential in your local ecosystem, here are two simple ideas to make things a little bit better.

Model Perseverance

The defining quality of a successful entrepreneur is supposed to be grit. Perseverance. Tenacity. Determination.  Resolve. The ability to struggle through obstacles and weather hard times.

Nobody wants to be locked down.  Nobody wants to wear masks or miss summer at the beach.  Everyone wants to eat at a restaurant and get their hair cut. But mercy, people: we live in a nation that stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the viscous soup of a swimming pool, spreading SARS to our closest friends.  

We live in a nation where half of us are about to fail the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.  And the price of failure is suffering and death.

If you are an entrepreneur who built your business on perseverance, it’s time now to model that trait--alongside kindness and civility.  What’s good for entrepreneurial success turns out to be good for life success as well.

Be Optimistic

Being optimistic is not about putting on a happy face. 

It's about acknowledging that the crisis is real, that people are hurting, that solutions are elusive—but that we have been in this situation before and we have overcome.  Every single time.  We just tend to forget our own history.

Some of us have already forgotten how bad the 2008 Great Recession really was; the housing market imploded and almost took down the entire global economy.  But that was only one of nearly 20 significant recessions the US has survived.  Not to mention the Great Depression. 

The recession of 1857 destroyed 5,000 businesses.  The Panic of 1873 destroyed 18,000 businesses. The Great Depression lasted a decade and drove unemployment to 25%.

When I was learning how to drive, I sat in long gas lines thinking we might all have to give up our cars. There was war in the Mideast, an OPEC oil embargo, a run on gold at Fort Knox, five quarters of negative growth and unemployment of 9%.  There was something called stagflation that had the experts baffled. Nobody knew what to do or how it would end.

Then there was the horror and uncertainty of 9/11.  Pearl Harbor and WWII for my parents.  The Lusitania and WWI for my grandparents.  Our nation nearly collapsed in the Civil War, nearly ended in the War of 1812.

When AIDS was at its peak in the 1970s and 1980s it was as fearful a pandemic as COVID is today. In 1968, the Hong Kong Flu killed a million people around the world.  The year I was born, the Asian Flu was in the midst of killing 2 million people. The 1918 Pandemic took 50 million souls.

On this kind of a summer day not that long ago, your great-grandparents forbid your grandfather or grandmother from swimming in the local pool because polio was so insidious and destructive.  The 1952 polio epidemic infected 58,000 people and killed more people than died on 9/11.

And yet, we are still here, coming off a bull market that lasted more than a decade.  Coming off a generation that saw the creation of the greatest national ecosystem for entrepreneurs in the history of the world, one that gave us the iPhone and Game of Thrones. (!)  On March 10, 2020, had anyone asked, we would have told them that we were the luckiest people on the face of the earth.

For 275 years, American history has taught optimism.  For an older entrepreneur, it's a story worth repeating.


  1. I had to look up the marshmallow experiment but I get the gist of it. Eric B. Schultz, you are the pro here, and always generous with your advice. To add to your list of two things I would advice people just starting out:

    1. Buy a ream of ruled paper and a binder (cost: less than 20.00). Write your 1. goal and 2. plan for how you are going to achieve you goal on page one. Then, spend an hour each month reviewing your goal and plan as you fill your binder with notes, ideas, tweaks for your plan, new goals, budget for goals, etc. I have used this method for years now. It is my best defense from getting sucked into buying the latest gadget-app, format, platform, mater class etc. unless it works with my plan and my goals. Staying focused and staying the course has helped me in my 30+ year career. Overnight success is a mirage.

    2. Find a cause to support and make it part of your goal-donate some of your income to this cause, join the board, participate in their fundraisers, etc. You will meet the kindest people this way who will in turn become part of your circle of friends.