in Entrepreneurship

Are You Ambitious or Grandiose?

One of the things I really love about my life is I’ve met more entrepreneurs than I can count. One of the coolest things about entrepreneurs is that they seem to have zero demographics in common. In other words, I’ve met entrepreneurs…

  • From both wealthy homes and poor homes
  • Of pretty much all ethnic backgrounds
  • From pretty much all educational backgrounds
  • Of pretty much all ages
  • In equal proportion from both sexes

Of course, as with any group, there are things in common. I guess “traits of an entrepreneur” is destined for another posting.

This post is about a very important difference I’ve seen in all entrepreneurs, and here’s what it comes down to:

All entrepreneurs I’ve met are ambitious; some of the entrepreneurs I meet are also grandiose.

What do I mean by grandiose? Well, take me as an example when I started Omedix. My goal was — prepare for buzzword overload, here…

To revolutionize healthcare by creating next-generation web solutions that integrate with every electronic medical record system and practice management system, and offer a “network” of practices that functions as a de facto national health exchange

Reality Check?  I was 24 years old, with zero experience building a company and no money.

There’s having the cajones to follow your dreams and achieve what others said couldn’t be done…and then there’s grandiose. To me, the critical distinction between “cajones” and “grandiose” is that with cajones you have a plan, you know what you’re signing up for, you know the risks, you know there’s a chance of failure and a chance of success, you know almost EXACTLY what your “risk proposition” is…and you still choose to go for it. That takes courage.

But grandiose is different. Grandiose is being so enamored with your vision that you never bother to consider the risks, or wanting your company to work so badly that you don’t think through the financials, or wanting to succeed so much that you disregard the challenges required to achieve your vision. In short, grandiose is being so obsessed and in love with your vision that thinking about the day-to-day realities it will take to achieve it becomes, well, boring.

What’s interesting about this is that many of today’s great companies started off as very simple visions. Take Dell as an example. Michael Dell started his company by purchasing computer parts on his own, and then manufacturing computers for friends & family in his college dorm room. At the time, it was cheaper to build than to buy so he made a small profit.

Eventually, he became so busy that he dropped out of college. Eventually, he moved out of his garage and into an office. Eventually, he began sourcing other products (like mouses, monitors, etc.) and eventually he began advertising every week in computer magazines. Eventually he pioneered the whole “built to order” concept as well as the “just in time” inventory concept and, well, he built a multi-billion dollar company.

Going all the way back to the first computer he built, Michael Dell did NOT start by raising capital to go build a factory. He just did something that added value for somebody, and then he took it to the next logical step. Was he grandiose? I don’t think so. Did he have cajones when he chose to drop out of college so he could “build computers for people”? Yeah, I think so.

By contrast, most of the first-time or aspiring entrepreneurs I meet sound the way I did before I had any experience: you’re going to take over the world, and you’ll figure out the details later.

I guess what I’ve come to realize is that, while the vision is sexy and while the vision is what the media and American folklore love to latch onto (”One great man…had a vision…that one day…premium coffee would be available on every street corner”), the real substance is in those so-called boring details.

I was so obsessed with my own vision when I started Omedix that I didn’t even bother to make a budget! I mean, honestly, that is the FIRST thing you do when planning a business, and it took me — get ready — about a year before I did that. My logic at the time? We’re going to be so successful eventually that short-term losses don’t matter. That’s not cajones; that’s grandiose.

I find that the best entrepreneurs are not risk TAKERS, but risk MITIGATORS. They eventually take the risk, but only after they really know what they’re doing. They’re also total realists…about everything. What will this cost? How long before we make money on it? And so forth. That sexy grandiose vision stuff: I think it starts out pretty simple to be honest.

I’m not trying to malign the notion of a passionate vision. In fact, I think it’s visionaries that ultimately push the world forward. But at the end of the day, what will it realistically take for your vision to become reality? How will it make money? If your vision requires $100 million, 7 years, and partnerships with every major company in your industry, is that really the BEST next step? Why not start smaller, or consider partnering with someone who has that kind of experience, or starting a business that COULD grow into that but won’t start that way. Why be grandiose, when you can just be courageous?

I guess what it comes down to is that dreams are wonderful and amazing and inspiring, but if we leave them as dreams without ever hatching a plan to turn them — step-by-step — into realities, then all we have are daydreams. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming of course, but it takes real courage — real cajones — to step outside the dreamworld and start planning your first few steps.