The first lesson for every entrepreneur is know your rock bottom. Know your threshold for pain.
Years ago I was watching the HBO show “The Wire.” In this particular episode, a woman speaking at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting about her addition to heroin said, “When I started my addiction I set a rock bottom in my head that I would never go past.”
She told herself that she would never live on the street to support her habit. Then she did. She crossed that line. She thought she would never steal to support her addiction. Then she crossed that line. She believed she would never sell her body to support her addiction. She eventually crossed that threshold, as well.
What I learned in the process of starting Practice Fusion is that your company will be an addiction. Upfront, before you start, think about how far you’re willing to go. Are you willing to sell your car? Sell your house? Give up seeing your friends (because you won’t have the time or money to go out with them anymore)? Are you willing to give up time with your family, to miss out watching your children growing up?
We were constantly fledgling the first few years after starting Practice Fusion. During this time I sold my house to initially start the company. After that ran out, I sold my car to pay a developer who held all of ourcodes hostage until we paid him.
I owned another house where the tenants paid me rent that I used to pay my employees. That house I let go into foreclosure. Much like the heroin addict I watched on ‘The Wire’, I was an addict and my drug was my startup. Just like all addicts, I was in massive denial and lying to myself. I told myself that it will be okay. All the while, I had sold off the majority of my possessions, was in serious debt and was MIA to my friends and family.
When the stock market crashed in October 2008, creating the most challenging environment in history for raising money from venture capitalists, reality finally hit me. We were going out of business this time. I had been in a motorcycle accident a few years earlier, where I had torn the rotator cuff in my shoulder. Serendipitously, the settlement check for that accident came in January 2009. I used the check to make payroll instead getting my shoulder fixed.
When we finally closed our first round of seed funding in April with the Band of Angels, I was four years behind in my taxes and needed two root canals.
Everyone thinks about the potential upside of the starting their company. Right now, in Silicon Valley, it’s the it thing to be a CEO. There’s a lot of glory that comes with the title, even if you haven’t built anything of value and are sleeping on your friend’s couch. The reality is there are sacrifices required that you won't fully realize until you are midway through your journey. Some people simply can’t cope with the failure and depression and pay the ultimate price by taking their lives.
The lesson here is, before you go too far down this road, ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up to pursue my dream?” Then know that whatever that rock bottom is, you will most likely have to go past it. That’s your T-pain! (In case you don’t know who T-Pain is, click here).