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Burn the bridges behind.

By Frank Peters

I became an entrepreneur because I had to. My life in Corporate America wasn’t going so well.  I never got fired, but I did quit one job the day before I was to be let go. I used my employee discount that last day to purchase a Compaq luggable computer and drove with my brother to Las Vegas.  Now, this would be questionable therapy for anyone who just became unemployed, except we were heading to Comdex, the annual computer show that would eventually grow huge as would the industry itself.  I consider this trip the anniversary of the company’s starting up, and made the trip 11 years in a row.

How was striking out on my own? I’d often say: “I created the company so no one could fire me.”  I never took a business course, never wrote a business plan, and never raised any outside capital.

As I look back at insights I might share, I wade through the trite suggestions of ‘work hard’ and ‘treat the customer well.’  But there’s more.  Burn the CIMG1875bridges behind comes to mind.  I had no alternatives to success. I was not going back to corporate America. It wasn’t a fall- back position.  I had to be successful at my new software company. And it wasn’t easy.

[Email readers, continue here…] I remember taking a walk with my wife one evening and sharing my concerns over cash flow. My sales tax payments were due in the next few days, and I didn’t have the money.  Default would bring many consequences. But I did have an appointment, a sales opportunity the next morning. I woke up that next morning with a jolt – literally.  An earthquake struck Los Angeles.  In an hour I received a phone call from the friend who was in the office where I was due later that morning. He had made the introduction for my appointment. “People are pretty shook up here today.  Some were stuck in an elevator.  I don’t know if today’s the best day to come up.”  He wasn’t telling me I couldn’t come, so, because I had to, I did.  I made the sale, and paid my debts.  I always remember that ‘back against the wall’ feeling.  It was stressful and yet so typical when running a small company.

This morning over coffee, my wife told me of a dream she had last night. It was about the earliest days of our life together when we moved to Westwood so I could attend UCLA. “Moving out west away from our families was one of the best things that could’ve happened to us at that early age,” she recalled wistfully. “We had to make a go of it.”  It brought back the memories of landing at LAX in 1974 with three suitcases and $1,900 to our names. Like my eventual experience as an entrepreneur, we had to persevere.  We had no alternatives.  We had burned our bridges behind.

Frank Peters made his money writing software for Wall Street. Today he is best known as the host of the Frank Peters Show, delivered via the web each week to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs, angels and VCs worldwide. Frank speaks and networks at angel events around the world.

  • Brian Duzet

    Awesome article Dave. I am sure that hits home to your entire audience. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reminds me of Satchel Page’s comment…Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

    or there might be nobody there…which may mean you are on the right path…bridges burned.

    Keep on biking…what about Washington D.C.?

  • I’ve had similar experiences. I suspect that many entrepreneurs have lived through “on your own” experiences earlier in their lives.

    My first major experience of this sort was arriving in NYC from LA (by train in Penn Station) without knowing anyone in the city and with a suitcase and about $100 in my pocket. I had never been east of New Mexico in my life.

    The ability to take measured risks and adapt if and when they don’t work out as expected would seem to be a key indicator of entrepreneurial personalities.

  • Oh, the life and journey of an entrepreneur! Ain’t nothing like it anywhere. Thank you so much for sharing!

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