03 April 2009

On Being Nimble, Wise, and Forthright: six months on the path

"I know your blog, I follow you on Twitter, and you're speaking at this conference," a number of people said to me in Aspen last week. "But what do you do?"

It's a question that comes up a lot these days. The answer is I'm doing a lot of things, wearing a lot of hats. (And trying to find one that fits.) I've learned to be nimble over the past six months.

Six months ago, I left Ashoka to develop my idea for a green energy investing platform. Needless to say, it's been a wild ride. I wrote about it on my second day on the job, when Career-man was at war with Entrepreneur-man within.

I rode a roller coaster through those early days and, more often than not, Entrepreneur-man ruled the day. Then September devolved into October, and November was fast on its heals. The credit crisis, collapsing financial markets, and freezing up of capital flows all combined to make it quickly apparent that my timing was off.

Luckily, I was too small to fail, to borrow my pal Howard Lindzon's phrase. I hadn't taken anybody's money and didn't have any employees to lay-off. I started consulting more and began retooling my idea to adapt to the market realities.

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans," sang John Lennon in one of the last songs he recorded before his untimely death.

Am I wiser for this experience? It's too soon to tell. Too soon to tell if it is a failure. Is an idea a failure if it doesn't evolve beyond the idea stage? Or is it still just an idea? I do know a lot more now about what it feels like to put yourself out there and try to prove an idea.

Of course, my idea isn't dead. Indeed, I had more interest in it last week than I've had in 3-4 months. So much so that I started dusting off the PowerPoint slides and the rudimentary business plan. Rather, the idea is in a holding pattern while life happens.

"Nobody told me there'd be days like these," Lennon sang in another song. Who could have told me? Many ideas take longer to gestate and develop. Some ideas take two or three years to become realized. I've only been at it six months and, even then, not full-time, full-tilt over those six months. (I still have to pay the bills.)

So, I haven't given up the dream. My entrepreneurial dream is still alive, and I get more excited and animated about it when I talk to people about it. Even last night, talking about it with a stranger, an investment banker, in my neighborhood bar: I got excited about it, and he could see the value, had a couple of ideas about people to whom I should talk.

These days, I find Entrepreneur-man wrestles more each day with Career-man. (Having a mortgage and kids always provides a dose of reality.) I have swung from wanting to remain fiercely independent to entertaining the notion of joining another's enterprise. (And don't think people haven't tried to pull me in one direction or another.)

Why am I telling you all this? I've learned it pays to be forthright.

Sure, I want my idea to blossom into the next big thing, but some days I am not sure it will or that I'm the one to do it. (I've been told the entrepreneurs who succeed never waiver in their belief that they will achieve their goals, but I don't trust that assertion...)

I'm writing this hoping it will help other entrepreneurs who are facing the same thing in this crazy economy. (I heard from some after I tweeted some of my thoughts last night.)

I also heard from folks who may be able to be help find partners for this idea-not-yet-enterprise...

So, consider this a six-month gut-check. No one could have foreseen where we'd be right now, either in the markets or in our enterprises. We have a long way to go, but being nimble, wisely paying attention to signals, and being forthright may help us along the journey.