It all started with Rosemary and Basil. We planted the two in a small oval garden next to a half barrel full of mint and a butterfly bush. It appears Rosemary and Basil fell in love, or at least they loved being together in the dark rich soil. They loved the sunlight, the moisture in the soil, and the awe we exuded each time we watered them. They flourished and were delicious. A new garden is not unlike a startup, I thought at the time. Get the fundamentals right, and you have growth.
In 2010, flush with our success the prior year, we planted more plants and imagined freezing pesto for the winter. That was the year that “downy mildew,” an aggressive fungal disease, afflicted basil plants in the eastern US,* wiping out our basil and leaving Rosemary with thinning branches and brown patches. We sadly conceded to having brown thumbs and decided to find sustenance at the grocery store. Yes, I thought, gardens are like startups, and optimism doesn’t always predict success.
Our garden confidence seemed shattered for good, but fortunately, each April, hope sprouts up. As we stood over the little oval garden this spring, making our list for the store, we were overwhelmed by a new sense of purpose. It was time to expand the oval, add even richer soil, and add more plants. Rosemary and Basil, of course, but why not tomatoes, parsley, peppers, and blueberry bushes? Maybe a fig tree!
This week I dashed to the hardware store with an entrepreneurial friend to buy more gardening tools. She said several of her prospective clients had changed their minds or pruned their budgets, and therefore she wasn’t working as much as she expected nor earning her anticipated income. I was surprised to hear her say this may spell disaster for her career. Would she ever get another project? Perhaps she isn’t as good as she had been lead to believe by so many clients over 20 years. Should she start looking for a different job?
If I had a nickel for every time I felt that wave of doubt, I could pay for all of the expensive gardening tools required for our new garden! When I lost a customer because the company was acquired by another, I also lost hours of sleep thinking the rest of the customers would soon follow. When economic disaster struck the US and much of the rest of the world, I had to close a business (my fourth). It must have been me – my brown thumb. Not the ‘downey mildew’ of the bank crisis or the housing bubble bursting. Confidence dissipated completely.
During our interviews with more than 100 entrepreneurs, we heard of all kinds of doubt and uncertainty. Failures caused by internal and external factors plagued them. They were not a cocky bunch. They lost sales, lost partners, lost customers, lost control of their companies, and most importantly, lost their confidence. Until they got it back. Then they learned new things, expanded their businesses and created new growth.
That explains why, along with our new and improved garden, I have a new app, which is going to be submitted to Apple tomorrow. 100ELL 1, or the first sequence of 100 Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned, will be available at the App store in the next couple of weeks. As a new App Developer, I’m learning at an extraordinary rate. Learning buoys confidence. Every single time.