As the plane descended to land at Ithaca, New York (Cornell University is here), I closed my book and reflected on thoughts it triggered in my mind. "Death of a Red Heroine" by Qiu Xiaolong is a mystery that takes place near Shanghai. Today's booming times in China breed entrepreneurs, shift the social structure of a giant country, race faster than people can keep up, and trigger behavior in people that generates good and evil.
Besides being a good read (I'll do a few more chapters before bed), the book got me thinking about how police inspector Chen reviewed the character of his friends who had gone through the terrible days of the Cultural Revolution. The survivors were a mix of those who emerged with character improved by their ordeals. And some had succumbed.
I find startups like that. The intensity of troubles that are inevitable are the heat, the cauldron, that is the Cultural Revolution of the entrepreneur. It shapes the character of every person who goes through it. Some grow and improve. Others wilt and depart. A few have actually died. E.C. has grown stronger every day. She has forged a business from nothing and no cash into a successful enterprise with over ten figures of revenue which generates a fine profit. I have been privileged to witness others who triumphed because of their strong character. That should be encouraging to you budding entrepreneurs.
However, the traps along the way are many and the temptations very alluring. I have experienced technical fraud (a person claims to be proficient but has flawed or very thin skills in a discipline critical to a new enterprise). I have watched original sounding ideas turn into copies as veterans dug deeply into competing technologies. I have seen co-founder friends turn into enemies over disagreement about how the company should get out of trouble. Several have told me they had to lie to get their companies funded. I have watched as pride and arrogance took over and engulfed the people in foolish errors.
In case you were wondering, none of the startups in the above paragraph survived. It is the E.C.'s of this world that do. In fact, they do not survive, they thrive.
BOTTOM LINE: Like the good inspector in Shanghai, reflect on character as you do your work. It is being shaped as you read this. The hard times will advance it the most. If you have set your standards (ethics), then your behavior (morality) will remain high. Otherwise, you are most likely to learn very painfully. Strong character is the mark of great leaders and a powerful element of a company's unfair advantage.