Share By Bryan Stolle, Contributor, Forbes
A couple of weeks ago, fellow alumnus, Navy SEAL Commander and U.S. Admiral Bill McRaven, delivered the commencement speech at our alma mater, the University of Texas, Austin. It was an incredibly inspirational and wisdom-laden oration, focused on life lessons taken from Navy SEAL training, perhaps the most rigorous and physically and mentally demanding training in the world. The full speech can be found here. I encourage everyone to give it a read.
If you want to build a great company and change the world, apply his lessons to the challenges of entrepreneurship:
Start Off by Making Your Bed Every Morning
No great company is ever built without discipline, focus and good habits. These things are all required and are developed one small step at a time. Make a quality job done properly and promptly, no matter how small or trivial, a part of your culture. Then small wins will become big wins, naturally and repeatedly. It can be something as simple as a five minute team check-in every morning to check progress, set the priorities and tempo for the day, or make a quick decision. Or a brief catch-up call with a different customer first thing every morning. The point is, developing regular good habits sets the stage for bigger accomplishments.
Find Someone to Help You Paddle
It takes a team to build a company. But not any team. A team that has a clear mission, has trust in each other to do their respective jobs right, and has the passion and motivation to handle the tough challenges and overcome them. Team construction should be one of your top priorities. If you need help identifying how to build the right team for your company, read, “Startup Cooking: Key Ingredients for a Winning Team.”
Measure a Person by the Size of Their Heart, Not the Size of Their Flippers
Resumes are great, but it’s a person’s commitment, dedication and drive that make the difference. A wise Silicon Valley vet once told me, “I’ll take attitude over altitude every time.” Skills can be taught; a great attitude, commitment, and drive cannot.
Get Over Being a Sugar Cookie and Keep Moving Forward
OK, this one needs a brief explanation. As one of the “punishments” for failing uniform inspection, a SEAL trainee is ordered into the surf to get good, cold, and wet, and then to roll around on the beach until they are completely covered in fine white sand – resembling a “sugar cookie.” They stay that way for the rest of the day. SEAL trainees would put in tremendous effort to get their uniforms perfect, but still got sugar-cookie’d – their efforts went unappreciated despite their dedication, one of the many mental test to which they were subjected. In the context of entrepreneurship, your efforts may be unappreciated, for a time or forever by employees, customers, suppliers, your investors, maybe even your family or significant other. Get over it. As Admiral McRaven says, “Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.” Entrepreneurship means about doing it right, consistently and persistently, regardless of the recognition.
Don’t be Afraid of the Circuses
In SEAL parlance, a “circus” is two extra hours of calisthenics at the end of the day for those who failed to meet the day’s minimum standards in all the other physical tests. No matter how hard you try or how careful you are, there will be days you have to “do it over.” It sucks, because you are already working long hours and are tired. But getting it right makes you and your company stronger and better, even if it’s the 2nd or 3rd try. Suck it up, dig in, and work it until you get it right!
Sometimes You Have to Slide Down the Obstacle Head First
Head first is dangerous. But if you want to beat others to the punch, get to market first, or win the big deal, you sometimes have to take risks. Entrepreneurship also means risk-taking, at the right time, with a clear eye balancing the cost of failure versus the rewards of success. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks when the pay-offs are there.
Don’t Back Down from the Sharks
There are lots people and things waiting to take a bite out of you as you make your entrepreneurial swim. When they show up, don’t swim away. Face the issue promptly and squarely. If they still want to make a snack out of you, punch them in the nose (figuratively, please), and let them know you are NOT going to back down from the situation or your mission.
You Must be Your Very Best in the Darkest Moment
Every entrepreneur, and I mean every single one, has at least a moment or two when the world looks dark and bleak, and too many things don’t seem to be going right. These moments of truth are when you must find your inner strength, your inner calm. Remember your mission and why you are doing all of this, and rely on your skills, experience, and conviction to push through and succeed.
Start Singing When You’re Up to Your Neck in Mud
Being an entrepreneur means being an example, a leader, and a source of strength and conviction for others. When things get hard, and difficult, and people are starting to lose their motivation and focus – that is when an entrepreneur most needs to step up and “sing.” Sometimes it’s just showing up and hanging around the office at 2am as your developers are banging out a big release coming up on its delivery date. Other times it’s calling an all-hands meeting and recognizing everyone’s hard work and contributions, re-emphasizing the company vision and mission, and reminding everyone of how close the company is to winning in the market.
Don’t Ever, Ever Ring the Bell
In SEAL training, there is a bell you ring when you want to give up and quit. Ring the bell, and all the discomfort, pain and sacrifice ends. For an entrepreneur, ringing the bell means no more all-nighters getting a proposal ready or a release out. No more 14 hour trips to some far-flung country stuck in the middle seat in the back in coach. No more hammering from your investors about why you aren’t exactly on plan (or beating it!). Just ring the bell, and the pain stops. Of course, if you give in to the temptation to ring the bell, you won’t be an entrepreneur that changes the world!
To paraphrase Admiral McRaven’s close:
Start each day with a task completed; find good people to help you build your company; respect everyone; know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But… if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the challenges, lift up your team when its stressed and flagging, and never, ever give up, then you too can change the world.
Many thanks to Admiral McRaven for sharing his thoughts, his inspiration, and for his service.