By Matthew Shanks
The planned title for this blog post before it was written, was “How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur.” Considering I’ve spent the last 16 months and a significant portion of my wife’s and my retirement savings on a business that’s yet to make a dime, perhaps that’s not the best article for me to write. It has been quite the ride though — one where staying mentally on track is one of the biggest challenges.
What I have for you in this post is an expression of what’s often inside my head as I navigate this entrepreneurial journey of creating the Kovii video chat app (which notifies a selection of your contacts anytime you toggle “Available,” so you never have to guess or plan when it’s a good time to call.)
Purpose — what drives the effort.
I have a vision. A vision where people are connected to their friends. Not a causal connection of liking each other’s social media posts, texting here and there, and talking or hanging out once in a blue moon. But rather I see people knowing each other deeply, personally. I see people having the comfort level with their friends of just talking and sharing the good and bad, without any fear of judgment or feeling the need to curate a perfect image to project to the world. I see a society where people are never isolated or lonely, because of this new level of connection made by real, casual, and convenient conversations with the people who matter to us.
And unlike world peace, I saw a way this can actually be achieved. A way I can help billions of people, from simply making lives a little more cheerful to literally saving them.
Having this kind of purpose is needed as an entrepreneur and is obviously a source of motivation. “Know your why” is a common phrase used to help people stay true to their cause and to focus on the big picture when the road gets rough.
I’ve never felt more potential to make a difference in the world. It is incredibly empowering, but also terrifying. If I fail, I’ve let down each person who, in their loneliest moments, would have never had to feel alone.
Perspective — a way to stay mentally collected.
I never experienced anxiety attacks before my work on Kovii. I have a very rational and relaxed personality. However I have a grand vision, I fear failure, and I hate waste. The idea of failing to bring my vision to fruition, all while having wasted so much time and money, is crippling. There’s just so much on the line. Yet it’s no surprise that this level of fear and anxiety isn’t helpful when trying to bring something to life. So to succeed, it’s imperative to keep a perspective that allows me to trudge along, moving through the uncertainty without getting sucked down into the swamp of doubt.
Here are things I need to remind myself frequently, when feeling overwhelmed by the fear of failure, or stressed about spending so much money.
My happiness is tied more to the pursuit of something meaningful than it is to having money, so I shouldn’t sweat what’s been spent. Time and money hasn’t been lost anyway, rather it’s bought everything I’ve learned. It’s debilitating to focus on what has not yet been achieved because it feels like failure, but if attention is focused on small wins then the feeling of failure is taken away. Besides, happiness is a journey, not a destination.
Notice that all of those things were about me. Specifically, they are tied to my ego. But this isn’t about me anyway! It’s about my vision of helping people. Simply thinking about my purpose doesn’t make the fear of failure go away, but in keeping the above perspectives I’m able to calm myself and get my ego out of my way… allowing me to focus and do my best work.
Perseverance — a ticket to somewhere.
Most people don’t realize just how hard it is to create something. It’s easy to think it’s all about having that great idea, but in this space you learn how untrue that is. An idea is like a seed. They blow around in the wind as readily as weeds grow… and many ideas even when nurtured, won’t grow into more than a weed anyway. But even with a hearty apple seed, orchards don’t grow into existence without the accompanying agricultural knowledge, land, equipment, and plenty of hard work.
An idea is the very beginning. From there starts a long and winding road. Entrepreneurship isn’t about sticking strong to your initial idea, but rather evolving it through what is learned along the way. It’s discouraging when things don’t go how we initially envisioned, but it is naive to have ever expected them to. The hardest part of entrepreneurship may be continuing to get up over and over again after thousands of “failed” attempts. But really those are thousands of lessons learned, each one a step towards finding a solution that works. Only with stopping is there real failure. Keep on keeping on, and you might not get where you expected, but you’ll get to somewhere worthwhile.
Perhaps one day I’ll be able to write the post on how to be a successful entrepreneur from first-hand experience. But for now, I’m going to stay focused on my purpose of helping people connect more meaningfully, try to maintain a good perspective, and keep on keeping on.
About Matthew Shanks
Matthew is an Army husband and dad currently stationed at West Point. He has a varied background including Aerospace Engineering, coaching and racing as a professional triathlete, and now is the founder of a tech startup with the Kovii app. He’s a passionate military spouse community leader engaged with other MilSpouse entrepreneurs, military community organizations, and a new program for military spouses to meet new friends. His work focuses on finding new and effective ways to bring people together at the level of personal, individual connections.
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