Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Little Red Hen

August 11, 2010

On Sunday I was talking to someone roughly my same age about his summer. He said he tried to work as little as possible and spent more than a few weeks on vacation. I was taken aback as I thought about the summer my team and I have had trying to finish our upcoming iPad/iPhone game Steve Young Football. Very long days, dinner at work, weekends at the office, coming home on almost a nightly basis and apologizing to Erica (my supportive/awesome wife).

This experience reminded me of a nursery story I often think about called The Little Red Hen. In the beginning the Hen looks for anyone who could help her with her idea (startup). She asks:

“Who will help me plant this wheat?” To which the replay came:

“Not I,” said the goose, “I’d rather swim in the pond.” “Not I,” said the cat, “I’d rather sleep on the hay.” “Not I,” said the pig, “I’d rather lie in the mud.”

But undeterred, the Hen responds without hesitation: “Then I’ll do it myself.” And she did.

The story continues as the hen goes on to weed the field, harvest the wheat, take it to the mill, and bake the flour.  All along the way she asks her friends, “Who will help me?” to which the reply is always the same, “Not I”. After all the work is completed, she sticks it to her friends  by asking, “Who will help me eat this bread?” to which they all respond “I will.” The Little Red Hen, now hardened from her lonely and difficult (startup) journey says, “Oh, no you won’t. Now I’m going to eat it with my family.”

Here are 4 entrepreneurial lessons I’ve pulled from the Hen’s experience:

1. The Hen worked hard for success. There was no lottery jackpot for the Hen. The story says she lived humbly in a small cottage and provided for her family before her breakthrough with the wheat. While some hit the preverbal startup jackpot, it seems most have done the work first.  Some big examples: Before they were YouTube founders, Steve and Chad were low level employees at Paypal. Before Facebook, Mark built 5-10 other similar products with varying degrees of success. Before Zynga Mark Pinkus worked for 11 years out of college before selling his first company. Some do strike gold on the first shovel in the ground, most earn it the hard way.

2. The Hen took something simple and made it great. One day while the Hen was walking she found a few grains of wheat.” After 4-5 different iterations, she finally turned that wheat into bread. There was no magic button (or bread maker) involved. She saw the vision of what that wheat could be, and she went the distance with it. It was not a Step A + Step B = success. Step A turned into Step B which turned into Step C.2 all the way to Z.

3. The Hen tried to build a team. Why would the Hen ask her friends for help over and over again? Honestly she sounds desperate asking the lazy pig. It’s because she understood that there are times when you’re alone it’s easier to talk yourself back into that old comfortable job. If you’re part of a group of people that relies on each other, you quitting means that not only you fail, but so do the people counting on you. Like soldiers in war whose motivation to live is not to see their families again, but to see their comrades survive. Fear of failing your teammates can be just as motivating.

4. The Hen overcame all obstacles in her path and SHE DID IT. This is my favorite lesson because as entrepreneurs there are always impossible obstacles. In my experience (admittedly limited) the successful entrepreneurs are the ones that find the best and fastest solutions. Many years prior to jumping, I had lots of ideas I wanted to execute on. I would ask for help, and when no one else stepped up I would shrink and go back to my corporate hole. The day I finally decided I would solve the problems myself, was the day I started to find success.

In terms of where we (Vaporware Labs) or I’m at personally in this story, it’s probably somewhere between planting the wheat and getting ready to look for help on pulling the weeds. Hopefully we will continue to get out and DO IT when the next big challenge comes.


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