Delusional Optimism – and why it’s essential for entrepreneurs

said no entrepreneurJust recently I read an article about the Founder of Zappos talking about delusional optimism.  It really struck a chord in me.  Having started 10 businesses over my career life, I recognise this as not only the hallmark of a true entrepreneur but also essential to success.Back in my consulting days, I used to work with a myriad of different business owners – some were successful, some not so much.  I knew that there was a difference in their “make up” but it wasn’t until I read this article that I could put a name to it.The ones that were successful were the ones who truly believed in what they were doing – and had an unwavering belief in their ultimate success.  Yes, they had delusional optimism.  A true glass-is-half-full way of looking at what they are doing and a solid belief that they were on to the next great thing.  The ones that weren’t so successful or really struggled were the ones who had either bought themselves a job, inherited a family business or started one because they saw their boss taking $100 an hour and only paying them $40. (Don’t get me started on the logic – or lack thereof – of that!)

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that delusional optimism is the key to success – and I’ve certainly seen people who are totally deluded about their right, or ability, to succeed – but it needs to be in there.  However there are also other vital things that need to be in there too – a great product/market fit, a solid go-to-market and sales plan, the ability to market well, the ability to actually sell and the ability to manage both money and people.

In the tech start-up world, of which I’m now a part, there’s a very healthy dose of delusional optimism as, as I comb through my google alerts daily to see who’s doing what and raising what money, I can’t help but think, in some cases, it’s not just the entrepreneurs who are delusional!  Some of the raises I see, for businesses that I just can’t fathom, seem insane.

Having said that, the ability for the Founders to infect investors with the same delusional optimism they have is an essential part of raising money.

It’s the same ability that you need to also infect customers with – either in your sales process or in the marketing you do.  If you’re convinced that your product or service is the best there is, that you’re solving problem that no one else is or in a way that no one else can, or that you can provide extra value that is currently missing – and desired – then that, combined with your delusional optimism, is truly infectious.

So here’s the kicker….

Delusional optimism is a must have ingredient for you to succeed. I’ve seen lots of mediocre business ideas get off the ground because of delusional optimism and I’ve seen some great businesses and business ideas fail because of the lack of it.

So is delusional optimism the missing link in business in terms of whether or not you’ll succeed?  Perhaps not.  But is it an absolutely essential ingredient to your success.  Without a doubt.

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Is it time to ‘fess up about what’s really holding you back?

We’re so busy.  Our businesses are cranking along, we tell our friends, and we’re just flat out.  But the fact of the matter is that, for many of us, we’re still not making the money we need.

So why is that?

I read something the other day that hit the nail squarely on the head.  The problem is not what we’re doing, it’s what we’re not doing.

We all know that a business is made up of lots of parts – managing people, marketing, money and sales.  And here’s the kicker – you need to do it all.

For many of us however, among all of that there’s at least one thing that we don’t like doing – and so we spend lots of time being very busy doing the others.  The others all need doing and are really important however there’s one that some people just stumble on – and that’s sales.

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I have a confession – I’m one of them.  And so is my business partner (and I don’t think she’ll mind me saying that).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy to go to a meeting with a new client and tell them all about my business, but cold calling and getting those appointments is something that, truthfully, I avoid like the plague – because I’m “very busy”.

Someone once said to me “without sales, the rest is all irrelevant” and, as much as I hate to admit it, he’s right.  This person sees sales as a challenge – and he loves it.  He’s tenacious, he’s persistent and a “no” to him is like water off a duck’s back.  And he’s exactly what our business needed.  So we employed him – and we’ve never looked back.

You see, as business owners, we’ll never be successful until we get real.  It’s time that we fess up about what we hate to do and either be prepared to step up and do it or employ someone who will.

Sales, or more importantly initiating sales, is one of those things you either love or hate – and, for many of us, it’s the latter.  And I’m talking about all the real sales stuff – not the networking, lunching, getting out-and-about type of sales.  I’m talking about hardcore lead generation and, oftentimes, cold calling.

There’s no crime in admitting you’re not good at it – or even that you don’t  like it – but get real about what has to be done and, if you’re not the one to do it, then hire someone who can.

And it’s the same for the other things in your business – whether that’s managing the cashflow, marketing, managing staff or any other crucial function.

The fallacy – and one that’s perpetuated at a number of conferences for business owners – is that we have step up and just do what we hate.  In fact, I’ve seen it yelled from the stage by many a business speaker (typically followed by lots of fist pumping and “if you’re with me say yes”) carry on.  And people leave saying “yep I’m gonna do it” and then two or three days back into it, our old habits come back and we’re busy avoiding what we hate again.

Humans are creatures of habit – and we all have certain types of personalities and all the fist pumping and “say yeah”-ing in the world won’t change our core personalities.

As a very non-confrontational person, I find cold call selling hard – in fact, sometimes I think I’d rather poke sticks in my eyes than do it.  But there’s stuff that I am good at – and that I love.

In fact, when we were trying to do sales cold calling ourselves my business partner and I would have sessions to psych ourselves up to do it – and then post mortem every unsuccessful call.  After months of this agony, we finally admitted to ourselves that, quite simply, we hate it and that it was, in fact, our big Achilles’ heel and that, if we weren’t comfortable (or good) at doing it, we needed someone who was.  And it was a huge turn around for our business.

Fessing up to ourselves (and therefore admitting that we weren’t, in fact, masters of everything) took courage.  We had to admit that we couldn’t do this on our own.  We had to admit that, while we had a damn good business, the one thing holding us back was something that we hated doing.  And we had to admit that we were really good at finding excuses to be too busy.  Whew!

But we’ve never looked back.

So rather than pretending that you’re brilliant at everything, how about ‘fessing up about what’s really holding you back – having a really good look in the mirror and instead of “rah rah” talks, spend the time finding the people who love what you hate, complement your strengths and are believers that your business is changing the status quo.

I’m hazarding a guess that this could be a major turning point for your business – as it was for ours.