No One Cares That Life Gave You Lemonade

Entrepreneurs Really Don't Want To Hear Your Success Stories
by Jon Colgan
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People like to read about entrepreneurs--about the things entrepreneurs do.

But I have noticed how few entrepreneurs say anything worth reading about (maybe myself included).

The problem is that...

Entrepreneurs are seldom good at discerning why people care, which leads entrepreneurs to assume something like, "these people are hanging on my every word." No, they are not. They came to see some action, which, 95% of the time probably means a train-wreck failure, and maybe 5% of the time means some story of overcoming the odds. These readers show up to be entertained...the same reason they read Harry Potter.

To these readers, you are the freak show they paid $0.25 to see.

"Uh huh, and what did you do when life gave you lemons?"

But there is another reason why people read about entrepreneurs: to learn. And this audience includes both current entrepreneurs--across a spectrum of experience--and aspiring entrepreneurs. These readers are not looking for entertainment (Harry Potter already gives them that). They came to learn how you turned lemons into lemonade.

For those people, the most worthless thing you could say or write is a story about lemonade. No one learns about overcoming challenges--about how you turned lemons into lemonade--if the story begins once your challenges have been overcome.

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Recounting your brushes with lemons is harder than it seems.

Why? Because entrepreneurs, like most people who ever step in front of an audience, have ulterior motives. They want the audience to do or believe something specific, something that serves the entrepreneur's current or future objectives: sign up for my service; download my app; review my book on Amazon; watch my show every week. For this reason, the entrepreneur sacrifices the part of the story from which you could benefit the most in order to tell the part from which he could benefit the most.

So it is not hard in a "I do not know how to do this" sense; it is hard in a "it seems irrational to put my audience's interests before my own" sense.

The trick is to make teaching the rational thing for you to do.

If I can make teaching my audience--in order to help my audience--the rational thing to do, then I could stop blabbing so much about my lemonade (which you can buy now for two easy payments of $1.25). Again, this is one of those shifts that is also harder than it seems, and in this case, the difficulty is due to how deep you have to dig.

You have to take inventory of what matters to you -- not just as a somewhat experienced entrepreneur with some lessons to offer noobs, but what matters to you as a person. Being an entrepreneur is certainly part of who you are. But it is probably not the only thing that matters to you. You have values, and many of those values have little to do with you being an entrepreneur.

So for example, you might say that one of your values is mastering whatever you put your mind to. And let's focus on your craft as an entrepreneur. There is a quote you could use as your framework:

"If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it."

You might say to yourself, "yea, I want to get better at being an entrepreneur; I want to master it." And now you have your premise: telling my lemons-to-lemonade story is a vehicle for me to master entrepreneurship, and if telling that story also benefits an audience, even better. You have just made teaching -- for the sake of teaching, as opposed to selling your audience something--the rational thing for you to do.

Teaching Startup

When we began working on Teaching Startup, we did not have an agenda. But we did have a set of concerns (and if you know Joe, its founder, then you might guess that "concerns" is just a euphemism for "rants"). We were interested in the lack of mentorship for entrepreneurs, the stereotypes of what being an entrepreneur looks like, the conflict of interest between the people most often dispensing startup advice and those needing it. Sure, we have ulterior motives; but we like to wear them lightly. We did not want to preach to a choir of seasoned entrepreneurs, nor try to coddle total noobs.

We wanted to describe an experience and a way of looking at startups -- our experiences and our perspectives -- to a general audience of intelligent people. It seemed to us that if we could watch what being entrepreneurs had done to us and the people around us, if we could catalog moments of friction and accord between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, if we could get to know some lemon-slayers deeply, then we would have most of what we needed.

So how have we done so far?

Being brutally honest...I think we need to stop talking so much about lemonade and begin every episode with a brief ritual wherein we pass around a halved lemon and squeeze its juice into our eyes. That ought to make it hard to forget that people only tune in for the lemons.

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