Entrepreneurs are optimists

This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. There are many reasons one might decide to be an entrepreneur. For me the journey was fairly simple.

In graduate school, I saw the sea change in my field with the influx of FSU scientists with much greater seniority, many more publications, etc. taking up postdoc and tenure track positions around the time I finished up. I knew I had to alter my vision of what I wanted to do in my professional career, and happily SGI came along and gave me the opportunity to spend time in industry. Not as a researcher, but as a business type.

I spent 6 years at SGI. I learned a great deal. Specifically I learned a little about what worked in terms of product development, sales, features, marketing. And I learned in great detail what not to do, what never to do, whom to never ever under any circumstances hire and promote …

Yeah, I learned quite a bit. And I groused while I was there, on the sgi.bad-attitude list. It was basically a case that I didn’t understand why the senior execs in the company were not as driven and as focused as I was out in the field, on winning, and growing the business. It was tremendously frustrating to me. I think in this period of time I coined the term I use, “lifers” whom are people who find a position that they retire in, whilst working for a larger company. They don’t rock the boat, they don’t get people out of their comfort zone. They provide mass to the boat, but not propulsion.

I kept thinking, often writing my thoughts down on that list, that there was something wrong with them, though reflexively I wondered if there was a “Joe”-way of doing things that was just, I dunno, plain old wrong … and I needed to conform to the lifers view. I worried that I was simply not a good fit for them.

But at the same time, I saw the stuff being built and proposed being built. Beast, and Alien, and many other things (most of which never saw the light of day). And I was floored … I thought this was terrific stuff, and I thought we could sell it. If we were only given a chance by the lifers in control.

That is, I was optimistic that we could be wildly successful, if only a few things changed. I could never convince the key people to change what we needed to change. And I found that terribly discouraging. Hence my venting and grousing in that forum.

I left SGI when I realized it was on a death spiral, a slow auguring in, driven by a culture of “don’t rock the boat”, “don’t verbalize what is broken”, “don’t challenge the priestly large scale SMP leadership”.

I needed the company I worked for to believe that the future could be better if only we could develop the best stuff, sell the best stuff, and help our customers. This culture had vanished at SGI.

Next company I went to was MSC.Software. Initially same positive energy, but they ran into an accounting scandal that claimed their CEO, not to mention a political battle that should never have happened.

I remember when I left there, the internet bubble was popping, and I sat down with my wife to discuss starting up the company. She had known I had been thinking about it.

The only way we could succeed was if we believed in ourselves, our offerings, and worked well with our customers. We had to have a fire in the belly … a strong motivation to make this work.

Which means that we have to be optimistic. We have to look out at a market and say, you know, this could be better. And we can make it better. And you have to believe in yourself, your team, your product, your company.

But its more than that. Far more.

To make this succeed, certainly, luck plays into it. But so does determination, drive, sheer force of will. How hard are you willing to work? How smart are you willing to work? Can you think on your feet?

Part of why I started the day job more than 11 years ago, was as a result of my being disappointed in the lifer execs at other companies, having so much power over my families well being. Think about it … other entities are deciding your health care, your remuneration, etc. This is the control issue, and I felt very much out of control over my own path and own destiny at the other organizations. I felt I couldn’t allow my own creativity to run wild, I couldn’t push things hard that I felt strongly about. I thought I could do a better job than they did. The ones that ran SGI almost out of business, and the ones that managed to get a nice accounting scandal going at MSC.

Its safe to say QED at this time. We are on a hockey stick because we’ve focused on what we are passionate about. We’ve never lost that vision, never wavered in our commitment to building the best possible performance systems. Never lost our focus upon real performance for applications, as this is the ONLY thing that matters. All the while, we have recessions, depressions, “partners” stabbing us in the back, challenges on customers not paying, etc.

We could have said “this is too much, we’re done” at any point. And there have been some very challenging weeks/months at times. But we didn’t. Its not in our DNA. Maybe its a personality flaw, I dunno. But we wouldn’t be going through what we are going through, if we did not believe that tomorrow can be better than today, and that we have the tools and opportunities available to us to make it happen. All we need is a chance.

I am an optimist. I see the future as being drenched in massive data flows and analysis. I see our architecture as being absolutely critical to being able to handle this. I see our partners applications being essential to being able to wring actionable inferences and intelligence out of these data flows.

This isn’t “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” No, thats self-delusion. You have to be a realist, but you have to understand that optimists inherently understand risk and reward, and believe strongly that there will be a better tomorrow based upon adopting the right concepts today.

This optimism is infectious. If you can articulate it well, you can help people see beyond the issue they are trying to solve today to the bigger problem looming tomorrow. The one they can’t even think of addressing. But you can help them, not just with todays issue, but with tomorrow.

I love being an entrepreneur. And I am very optimistic about the future.

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