I don’t know many women entrepreneurs who haven’t already read Penelope Trunk’s post on women entrepreneurs and how they can’t be successful because… they want to have children. The sexist title alone that TechCrunch put on the original article made it a sure read to all of us women entrepreneurs.
On top of it, it plays to a certain stereotype discussion that was on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage recently. Perhaps this was that panel leader’s way of saying, “AHA, Proof that I was right!”
It would be easy to think this story is about feminine entrepreneurs and economics. But it’s not. It’s an article about leadership skills. You see, I have written a similar post also because I too have recently stepped back from being an entrepreneur as CEO of Rubicon.
By making the issue about wanting / having children, Penelope has taken her extraordinary writing and story-telling skills to become the heroine of the story. Who doesn’t want to root for the parent who is “doing right” by the choice of making sure she takes care of the ones she brought into the world. I hope it makes Penelope feel good about her choice, but I’m going to argue that this story is too one-sided. It leaves out a failure of her management team, her board, and showcases her lack of leadership. Which I will return to in a moment on “lessons for all of us entrepreneurs”.
As you read my original post, you can see how I am clearly dealing with work/family/career trade offs. But what is more enlightening and WAY more representative of the core issue is the post that preceded it by several months. In it, I named my frustration at not being able to scale my firm well and I couldn’t Cross the Rubicon, so to speak. In net, I was saying my firm was systemically designed to fail. I know a lot about systems and so it was really hard to realize that while I could help some really notable companies do BIG saves and marketing-winning moves, to really excel in the marketplace, I couldn’t do it for my own small-millions-dollar firm.
“It’ll work out” turned out for me (and often does for others) into many bad choices. When we entrepreneurs load ourselves down with shit work we hate to do, what we’re saying is that we’ll add that to our plates in addition to our normal load of things we want to do. In the end, we’ll do way too much, get fatigued, lose perspective, get worn down and then have to “quit our jobs so we can be with our kids”. By not making the right choice by the firm, I was saying “I’ll fill the gap” myself. I wasn’t leading the firm, I was “doing” the firm. In essence, I was a “doing” entrepreneur saying “I’ll be your duct tape”. Which works fine for a while. Then, if you are “successful” as I turned out to be, my little “duct tape” couldn’t hold strong when it was the plug for a big damn of revenues, delivery and projects. Being a “doing-Entrepreneur” is not enough to scale a firm to success.
2. Entrepreneurs: working hard is never enough; our goal to create a sustainable enterprise. Sustainable doesn’t mean “I will work myself into the ground and hope someone can give me a $1M at the end and then they can grow the firm to the next level”. Sustainable is more like the thing that lets Ev Williams hire Dick Costolo at Twitter and then divide roles so the different fronts are well covered. I would bet the Corporate Board at Twitter were thinking about sustainability so they didn’t lose their talent but found a way for a thriving enterprise. Great corporate advisers are looking down the horizon to manage culture, talent and velocity.
(And please note I am NOT in any way disparaging the person I worked with from 2006-2010. I loved working with him in so many ways. *Without him, I could never have grown from doing business unit level strategies to doing company level strategies. He complimented me in many ways, and I personally grew because of the way in which we worked. I’ll never regret the time working with him because I also learned and grew and became more of who I am today. It is true that by hiring him and letting him stay, I made a fatal mistake for Rubicon but I’ll apply that lesson in fruitful ways down the road.)