Keith Cowing

Keith Cowing

Product guy. Entrepreneur.
Career advisor. Read bio

Take the Reins or Take the Backseat: Entrepreneurship is About Action

October 8, 2010

There are a number of aspects to building a business, but at the end of the day they all boil down to one thing: progress. Being an entrepreneur is about building something out of nothing. One day you have an idea, then you have a plan, then you have a founding team, then you have a prototype, then you have seed investors, then you have beta customers, then you have a product launch, then you have more investors, then you have a bigger team, then you scale to profitability. Not all companies need investors or follow this exact path, but this is a typical progression for a startup. Few make it from the very beginning (an idea) to the very end (a sustainable, profitable business). There are a number of reasons why companies fail along the way, but entrepreneurs who are truly tenacious and are constantly taking action are the ones who plow through each road block and make progress against all odds.

I wrote a previous post about some natural conflicts between the mindset of an entrepreneur and the mindset of an MBA program. Much of my criticism (as an entrepreneur who has an MBA) is about people who learn to analyze vs. people who learn to take action. Analyzing a situation and making reasonably intelligent comments is drastically different from taking action, managing a business, and building something. There are tons of good ideas out there (I’ve learned that ideas come cheap). But there aren’t nearly as many people who take those ideas and put them into action.

The road to building a company is definitely a long, grueling one. But in my opinion it’s a string of baby steps all lined up in the right direction. The actual next step at any point in time is never that phenomenally difficult. Call a customer. Pitch your idea to a potential partner. Outline your requirements for a prototype. Throw together a website. Iterate your business model. Start a blog. When I talk to people who have ideas they are considering pursuing, I try to help them break the business into pieces and define precise next steps. It is rare that the next steps take more than 3 hours, or a weekend at absolute most. So either take that action, put in the weekend, push your idea forward, or take the backseat. Entrepreneurship takes the word proactive to a whole new level. You can’t wait for somebody else to tell you what to do, you have to wake up each morning and take the bull by the horns (though perhaps after coffee). I think you can tell near the beginning whether somebody is going to live in the clouds or actually make progress. The funny thing is that so many startup ideas die because nobody took the reins and simply took those first 3 baby steps.

I have written this specifically in regards to startup companies, but I believe it generally applies to any organization. Peter Ueberroth, former head of the US Olympic Committee, had a great comment that “Authority is 20 percent given and 80 percent taken” (previous Business Insider tip of the day). Companies have entry-level employees, managers, directors, vice presidents, etc. (or whatever equivalent applies to your organization). But at every level there are people who simply take action and seize authority and there are people who take the backseat. In my mind, a huge part of leadership is about moving the ball forward. Seize that authority, seize that opportunity, take action, and make progress. That’s what makes a great entrepreneur. The resume is nice, the pitch deck is nice, the idea is cool, but taking action and making progress is what really counts. So be an entrepreneur, take action, and get out there and hustle.

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