Photo credit: Christopher Sardegna
Photo credit: Christopher Sardegna


If you’re reading this, you likely have some form of interest in startups and entrepreneurship. But then again, who doesn’t? Work with like-minded people, do stuff you actually care about, be yourself, and possibly make a great living doing it? Who wouldn’t sign up for that?

This sort of thinking seems to be prevailing at an ever-growing rate, all over the world, as the ‘startup’ phenomenon continues to gain steam. Industry after industry, service after service is being challenged by groups of hardworking, motivated and optimistic people, who want to see things done differently. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s toilet seats or rocket ships, the ethos of ‘Dream it, do it.’ seems to hold great appeal.

And so it should. It’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant future where what we now call ‘startups’, simply become the new norm of how people engage the world to create value. So ubiquitous may be this mindset, and so accessible the tools needed to engage it, we do indeed seem to be at the beginning of what will be looked back upon as a time of major change for how people worked, and what they worked on.

I’m often told I exaggerate this point, but how can you not get excited by the emergence of a group of people who see problems, and rather than complaining, marching, blogging or whatever else people do, actually just get to work building a solution?! Buckminster Fuller sums this up perfectly:


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Interviewing founders

This is one of the reasons I started interviewing startup entrepreneurs in Shanghai. Though there always seems to be many concerning things going on in the world, I wanted to pick the brains of people who were focused on progress, and who were fully engaged in making their little (or big) area of the world better.


In fact, tech entrepreneurs are totally normal.



After having several such conversations, often for several hours at a time, something began to dawn on me. Tech entrepreneurs are not some select group of highly gifted individuals who are just living out their destiny as over-achieving superhumans. In fact, they are totally normal.

If you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m a pretty big cheerleader for the startup community, but I sometimes fear that even more people fail to enter it because they feel they don’t have the requisite coding skills, network, co-founder, IQ score, financial resources, business plan, media access, lucky charms…or whatever else.

The secret sauce

But after having spoken with so many startup founders, I’ve learned what the secret sauce is, the single most crucial element that separates those who stay on the sidelines, and those who throw themselves in to the unknown — commitment.

As observers, we can only see things from an outside perspective, and in order for us to observe them, they have to have already gone through the formality of actually occurring, that is, we only see the end result.

We often attribute the outcome to the driving force behind it (founder), but we don’t see the mess of stuff that came before it. We don’t see the failed attempts or iterations, the confusion, the emotional turmoil and self-doubt, the input from a million other people, the arguments, and the seemingly infinite number of other things that preceded whatever outcome is being observed.

So when I say that these entrepreneurs that I’ve had the privilege to interview are normal, I just mean that they go through all the same challenges, and have to deal with the same annoying little voice in their head as you do. It is not an easy road for them, despite what flashy ‘founder profiles’ in TechCrunch or big funding round headlines may have you believe.

But what does make these people special is that they made. that. commitment.

Why it works

Despite not knowing what the hell they were doing, despite not being ready, despite having no idea what to do next, despite having all the same reasons that any one of us who have ever considered starting our own business (or joining a scrappy early stage startup team) have had, they jumped, and made a commitment to themselves to figure it out on the way down.



The commitment is what causes them to become great, not the other way around.



To put it simply, what I learned from these people was that great entrepreneurs aren’t great because they always know what to do, they’re great because they relieve themselves of the self-imposed obligation of always having to.

AFTER the commitment is when the magic happens, when these people go from being just like everyone else to people that begin to expect more from themselves, begin to raise their game, begin to orient their life toward the achievement of their goals, and with each hurdle crossed strengthen their resolve and belief in themselves. The commitment is what causes them to become great, not the other way around.

To borrow a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson that seems to apply to many of the founders I’ve interviewed,



“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”



So if I’ve learned anything during my discussions with these people, it is to embrace the uncertainty, accept that mistakes are a constant part of the process, go easy on yourself but always seek to improve, align with something meaningful and most importantly, COMMIT 100 PERCENT!