There is always an answer
One of the toughest elements of being an entrepreneur is the constant barrage of decisions to be made and problems to be solved. These include finding capacity when one of your key staff members has left, ways in which to cut your input costs to be competitive, or how to pitch against the dominant incumbent in your industry who owns 80% of the market. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
In my experience, those 4% of entrepreneurs who succeed (i.e. make it past ten years) have a very different attitude and approach to these decisions and challenges than the 96% who shut down their businesses at some point in their first ten years. It’s not just about having a positive and optimistic outlook, it also requires an extraordinarily deep belief that every problem can be solved and that there is always a perspective to the problem that will provide you with the ingredients for the solution.
Twenty years ago I found myself in a scary predicament: it was the 20th of the month and I had zero cash to pay the salaries of the 40 staff members that I employed. My shareholders refused to put in any more money, the banks would not provide further overdraft, my credit cards were maxed out, and friends, fools and family avoided my calls. There was no way whatsoever that I would have enough cash to pay salaries by the 29th of the month and the implications of being unable to pay salaries were disastrous.
Fortunately (or perhaps not) I was asked to lunch by a businessman who was interested in my future plans for my business. In my very vulnerable state, I revealed the woeful fact that there was no future as I had literally run out of money. “If you did have cash, tell me a bit about where you would take the business,” he said. I told him all about the new technology we were working on and elaborated on the exciting prospects for this fantasy business that might have been if we had cash.
The more I focused on the fact that I had zero cash, the more he claimed that the problem was only a cash-flow problem and the more he insisted that I go on explaining how the technology would work and what its application in the market would be. My worldview was that I had no more cash and the business was over. His worldview was that I was going through a cash-flow crisis and would be an ideal target for a venture capitalist or private equity player, and that instead of focusing on finding more cash as a loan, I should rather spend time looking for an equity partner.
When I returned to the office with renewed vigour and enthusiasm, I called the people I knew who knew venture capitalists and managed to set up a meeting with three in Johannesburg that week. I immediately asked a friend to help me build a projection, climbed on a plane and flew up to Johannesburg and within four days had secured an equity partner who valued my business at a number I would never have anticipated. As part of the deal they forwarded enough cash for salaries, the rest was to be paid after due diligence was completed.
My frame was that I had to borrow money in order to solve this problem. His reference was that a venture capitalist would love our technology idea and in that way I could have an equity answer. We both had totally different approaches to solving my one problem.
It was a valuable lesson to learn that my perspective influenced my lens and approach to solving problems. It is first and foremost a matter of always deeply believing that there IS a solution and that your role as entrepreneur should be to keep finding different perspectives (and approaches) to solving that problem until you find the right answer.
We always come at our problems from our own perspectives rather than trying to see them from someone else’s frame of reference. Different people solve things in different ways. I have never been in a situation since that day where I thought a problem couldn’t be solved – never!
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