Great Advice for Entrepreneurs: The Founder’s Manifest

by Lane Wallace on June 6, 2017

Back when I lived in Silicon Valley, I used to have tea, sometimes, with a very prominent and successful venture capitalist who’d gone to the same college I had. I would pick his brain on topics relevant to my writing, from the value of failure to the origins of passion, and he seemed to enjoy the discussions. I, of course, was getting valuable insights from an experienced entrepreneur and VC, but I wondered, sometimes, what he got out of our talks. So I asked him once. He said it was a refreshing change of pace to talk to a 47-year-old who understood more about persistence, life, passion, and the long game than many of the on-fire 27-year-olds with the next great software idea who were constantly pounding on his door.

“The thing about most 27 year olds,” he said, “is that for all their fire, they often give up when they hit the first really immovable obstacle in their path, and go looking for some other idea to pursue. A 47-year-old who’s motivated by deep passion and meaning, on the other hand, will look at that same immovable obstacle and start figuring out whether she’s going over it, under it, around it, or through it, and how to best do that.”

Not to disparage 27-year-olds, but his point was that deep-seated passion comes from significant self-knowledge and a very clear sense about what is, and what is not, important–both to yourself, and in life. And in most cases, we accumulate that knowledge over time, meaning that we have more of it in our 40s than in our 20s. We also tend to learn that persistence is nine-tenths of most games. We’ve experienced failure, and we’ve had to pick ourselves up again–hopefully learning, in the process, that failure or dead ends aren’t really the end of the road unless we allow them to be.

In fact, some of the steps toward becoming that persistent, passionate entrepreneur are the same ones required for finding and developing a strong sense of authentic voice. It’s not a coincidence. Passion and the persistence it generates come from knowing who you are and what matters most to you at the core. Which is to say, from having a strong and authentic sense of self and voice.

Many advice books for entrepreneurs pass over these important elements, however, and focus on the external nuts and bolts of getting a new idea funded and into the marketplace. Which is why The Founder’s Manifest: For Anyone Starting a New Business stands out from the crowd. Its author is an experienced entrepreneur who now works as a consultant, giving start-up advice and assistance to other new entrepreneurs. I had coffee with her once, in San Francisco, and I was impressed, at the time, at both how sharp her mind was, and also how wise her soul was, in ways of both business and life. So when she sent me a note announcing the publishing of her book, I got a copy. And it did not disappoint. As would be expected, it contains plenty of nuts-and-bolts pieces of advice on marketing, managing, branding, infrastructure, funding, finance and other daily start-up issues. But the bulk of the book–which is accessible and interesting, as well as informative– actually focuses on the often-neglected but absolutely essential internal and mental groundwork necessary to become a successful start-up founder or entrepreneur. Self-knowledge and reflection. Assessment of personality strengths and weaknesses, and what that means, for a business. There’s a whole chapter with exercises focusing on investing in yourself; on how to get to the self-knowledge that leads to passion and persistence, as well as the attendant humility necessary to become a successful CEO. Because only humble CEOs are able to recognize what they don’t know, and where they need help.

In short, My-Tien Vo offers the wisdom and perspective of a well-grounded, integrated, and authentic 47-year-old to anyone, of any age, who is contemplating an entrepreneurial venture. (I actually don’t know how old she is, but she’s clearly been around the block enough times to know from whence she speaks)  It’s also good reading (especially the chapter on investing in yourself) for anyone trying to find that authentic core within themselves. The reflective questions and exercises she outlines aren’t specifically targeted toward finding an authentic voice, but they can help any reader start developing the skills and habits of self-awareness and self-reflection. And both of those elements are necessary not only for aspiring entrepreneurs, but also for anyone longing to find their authentic core and bring that voice and passion out into the world.

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