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Reimagining Startup and Enterprise Innovation

The Entrepreneur as Eternal Optimist

Reggie Bradford
SVP, Startup Ecosystem & Accelerator

Launching your own company is exhilarating, intense, difficult, and sometimes scary. In the first few months or years, when you're not sure you're going to make it, it can be easy to get a bit pessimistic.

Admittedly, there will always be challenges to being an entrepreneur. But if you focus too much on them, you may lose one of the most important assets you have in your business: Optimism.

The enthusiasm that comes from your optimism is what people are getting behind

Optimism, in fact, is the key to success, as much as having a great idea. When you're building a company, raising capital, hiring employees, and selling to customers, all of them bet on you and your brand. The enthusiasm that comes from your optimism is what people are getting behind. If it's not there, if you don't show you believe in the idea and the potential, then you won't attract them.

I've been there. While today I work for one of the largest companies in IT, I spent most of my career as what folks in Silicon Valley call a "serial entrepreneur." In each of my companies, from the time I started, I viewed everything as a "glass half full" and did my best to see challenges as opportunities.

But understand that I see myself as a "pragmatic" optimist. You can't let yourself be blinded by your vision so much that you don't recognize potential problems and solve them. You don't want to create hype, and you don't want to fall victim to your own. But you have to have that contagious optimism that will get people to not only believe in the idea, but to persevere when there are challenges.

If that sounds like you should make optimism part of the culture of the organization, you're right. Since that optimism starts with the leader, you'll have the most success from creating a flat organization, where you can directly communicate that optimism to everyone.

It can become more challenging to maintain that optimistic culture as you grow

When I was running my own business, I worked hard to use every communications channel I could think of to keep everyone connected and excited. Everyone had a Yammer account and we kept in touch all the time. We had all-hands meetings every three weeks. I brought a bell into the office that the sales people would ring every time they had a new deal—it was just a way to share that enthusiasm and keep the optimism going.

It can become more challenging to maintain that optimistic culture as you grow. When you get to a certain size and have to scale, you need to create processes and procedures, you have branch offices and remote employees. That makes it a lot harder to keep you culture intact than when everyone is in one room or under one roof. It doesn't have to mean losing your culture, though; you just have to reinforce it, and in different ways. You should always give everyone two or three KPIs related to the culture, things they have to believe in and rally behind.

Technology can be a real help here. Not only can it keep you in touch, but it also can help you evaluate the opportunities in front of you based on data. Having information at your fingertips is a great thing, and today with the cloud any size company can afford the digital tools they need to turn their optimism into a good solid business.

I got some advice a long time ago that I still follow: Don't get too high on the highs, and don't get too low on the lows. The problems you're facing today aren't that big in terms of life. Life, your business, is a marathon. Try to have people around you who are mentors, who support and believe in you. And keep that optimism.

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