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The Entrepreneurial Paradox: Profit or Power?

Thom Ruhe, Director of Entrepreneurship, The Kauffman Foundation

For many entrepreneurs, there’s some part of their personality – their drive, their adept deal-making ability, their stubbornness – that becomes a crucial component to the early success of their venture.  But all too often, the time comes when the tables are turned, and it’s no longer about what they bring to the table, but what they don’t.  As Paul O’Donnell puts it, it’s “the point when a founder realizes the business needs something he or she can’t offer to keep it going.”

In the Summer 2009 issue of The Leading Edge, O’Donnell writes about the tough decisions that need to be made when a founder and his or her business reach that crossroads.  In many cases, the release for the pressure that this situation builds is to bring in investors, partners or outside counsel and expertise.  As a result, the founder must usually cede some degree of control over “their baby.”

As I’d said in the article, at some point, you look at your baby and say, “I want more for you and I don’t have the skills to get you there.”  It’s never an easy call to make – especially for first-time entrepreneurs.  The tenacity, passion and commitment that made you a successful entrepreneur in the first place are now the stumbling blocks in your way as you wrestle with taking a different role and must – to some degree – let go.  The outcome may determine your company's next stage.

Also from the article, here are my Five Key Considerations for Founding Entrepreneurs at a Crossroads:

1) Know Thyself – Take an honest inventory of your own strengths and weaknesses.

2) Get a Thick Skin – It’s not personal, and that applies to you as well.

3) Step Outside Your Business – Ask, “do you have the right players in the right positions,” including yourself?  Are the people you have onboard helping you get from A to B?

4) Be Honest With Your Goals – Write them down and visit them frequently.

5) Be Jealous With Your Time – As an entrepreneur, you can waste a lot of time, even if you have good intentions.  There is an opportunity cost to everything, including your time.


Have any of you ever been in this position and had to choose?  What did you do?  Do you have any other tips for others?

It might never be an easy choice, but maintaining an honest, objective point-of-view on the situation is the key.

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