Last week there was a post on LinkedIn that caught my attention: “When entrepreneurs sacrifice too much.” The post covers the early years of Stonyfield Farms Yogurt, the challenges they had and sacrifices the founders made to bootstrap their business. This post really struck a chord with me on so many levels and I have chatted about their story with a number of entrepreneurs since and continue to do so.
My favorite comment was from a young entrepreneur who said something to the effect of: If Stonyfield Farms’ founders had shown up on Dragons Den in Year 5, Kevin O’Leary would likely have been saying “I forbid you to spend another dollar on this business, pack it in you’re done”. This observation by the young entrepreneur is an interesting comment on so many levels. First of all, who can judge what will become a viable business and what won’t? When is it time to pick yourself up and keep going or just pack it in and cut your losses? Who is the “Expert” on your business? Take a look in the mirror.
No one will spend more time on the business than you or your co-founders and no one will love this baby more than you. Frankly, any person or organization that promotes themself as the expert on your business probably isn’t, not even Kevin O’Leary.
Second point, and this is stated with much less certainty: How do you know if it is time to pack it in or time to keep going? This is a much more difficult question to deal with and the answer is shades of grey rather than black and white. The answer may be “how do you feel about the business?” or “what does your gut tell you?”.
This story embodies many of the principles of bootstrap business building that we hold dear at TheCodeFactory. Over time, hard work, commitment and effort will generate results. Sometimes it is difficult to get past that fear of failure, but real entrepreneurs understand delayed gratification and that the work you do today will generate results later. Much like the hard work and sacrifice of the Stonyfield Farms’ founders took a decade to yield a profitable business, most ventures take years to get to sustainable growth.
The Stonyfield Farms story is one of passion, persistence and commitment to building a great business. The truth behind success is often just sticking with it long enough. I’ll end the post with one of my favorite quotes from Henry Ford: “Remember the wind is always strongest just before the plane takes off.” Bootstrap business building is a lot like that plane taking off; there is always drag and resistance and your job as an entrepreneur is to keep going until the business takes flight.
– Ian Graham