Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"If you follow every dream, you might get lost."

I was listening to the radio this morning and Neil Young’s “The Painter” caught my attention.  The main chorus is – “If you follow every dream, you might get lost.”

I like Neil Young but my initial reaction was – “Wow, that’s a crummy message.”

A few minutes later, my mind was reflecting on the PGA Show and something clicked. 

The thing I love best about conventions is that it’s capitalism at its finest.  Anyone can buy a booth and peddle their product.  If people buy what you’re selling (and everything at these shows is negotiable), your business grows.  If not, you burn through a lot of cash.  For a young company, conventions can make or break the business. 
This is why I love checking out all of the little booths north of the huge equipment companies and south of the apparel hall.

A few booths were perfect examples in entrepreneurship.  For example, Swing Thought is a company who literally opened their doors to the public on the first day of the PGA Show.  They grabbed me as I walked by, surrounded me with four people when they learned that I could be a large customer, rapid-fire pitched me for 20 minutes, called me the next morning asking if I’d stop by again to help them with something, surrounded me this time with three people, and sent me a follow-up email two days later.  Some people find this strategy annoying, but it works and I respect it.  I wouldn’t be thinking about them otherwise.

Sadly, this is the exception instead of the rule.  In probably 80% of the small booths I passed, the owners/employees paid little attention.  Often they were staring at their phone/computer or talking amongst themselves.  People walked by and they didn’t make eye contact or try to engage them.  For all they knew, they just missed talking to their largest potential client.

Most of these people were the owners.  They followed their dream by creating a company and product, but now they’re not executing on the business.  I get it – most people are scared to death of “selling” … but selling and entrepreneurship are synonymous.  There’s no such thing as “build it and they will come” or “it sells itself” in the start-up world.  You could have the greatest product ever but you will fail if you don’t sell it.

These folks make me think that Neil Young’s message maybe isn’t crummy but great advice.  Most people have many career-driven “dreams,” but if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, wait for the one that truly captures your heart and soul.  Your passion will overwhelm your aversion to “selling” because you won’t ever want to stop talking about your dream to others.   The folks standing idly at their booths clearly don’t fall into this category.

A good litmus test is this – are you jumping out of your boots to talk about it or are you anxious about having to get in front of people?  If it’s the former, good luck and happy entrepreneuring.  If it’s the latter, then likely it’s a dream you shouldn’t follow because you’ll end up lost in a world of competition.

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