April 4, 2016

Lessons on Startup Conviction Drawn from a Springsteen Show

Every startup entrepreneur I know has something to learn from Springsteen. We all could and should be more like Bruce.
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I had the opportunity to catch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live last weekend in Denver. If you haven’t seen The Boss play live, do it before you run out of chances. He is wildly talented, deeply passionate about his work and the crowd, and filled with more energy than most people half his 66 years. He played for 3.5 hours straight that night, which is nothing unusual for him. He body surfed, moved through the crowd on raised walkways, shook hands, took selfies with fans, and danced onstage with a completely adoring and adorable 10-year-old in a trucker cap.

What Springsteen Teaches about Startup Conviction
Springsteen, well into three hours here

In that 3.5 hours, my Fitbit said I did 18,000 steps just from standing and dancing at my seat! If I did that, how many steps did he do? And how did he do that at altitude when he lives at sea level? Did he ever take a break and go to the bathroom? Don’t think so. He did sponge himself off at the back of the stage.

His values, love of his craft, and appreciation for his fans spill out of him during these shows. It’s awe-inspiring, and it’s made me a die-hard fan of his live shows even when I don’t listen to his recorded music at all.

Watching Springsteen live is extraordinary because I feel like I’m witnessing someone operating completely in his genius. You are watching and being with someone who is doing EXACTLY what he is meant to be doing. Getting a glimpse of that is an incredible gift, and the size, scale and volume of how it comes through him is unforgettable.

As I watched, listened, danced, and lifted my jaw up from the ground again and again, it struck me that every startup entrepreneur I know has something to learn from Springsteen. We all could and should be more like Bruce.

First, entrepreneurs should recognize that the only reason Bruce can do this in the way he does is that he loves what he does (I imagine). I’m sure these shows are incredibly draining physically, but I assume he gets so much energy from doing them that it doesn’t feel like work. I think the same is true for startup founders.

It is a matter of choice to be an entrepreneur or to elect to build a company. Leaving Shark Tank and the HBO show Silicon Valley aside, there’s nothing glamorous about building a company from scratch. Even once you’ve started something, you always have the option to choose a different path. There’s no shame in that. There’s no shame in making a choice to have a job at an established company. In short, be an entrepreneur because you love it, and if you don’t, go do something you do love.

Second, if you decide you love the idea and the reality of entrepreneurship, do it with utter and complete dedication. Here are a few examples.

When you are told to focus your energy on customer acquisition, but you know you need to start your fundraising process at the same time: Be like Bruce and deliver more energy than you might previously have thought possible.

When you hear “no” five times in a week from prospective investors or clients, and you try to find the energy to tackle more meetings with more risk of getting turned down: Be like Bruce and allow your deep passion for your company to get you to and through those next five meetings.

When you are overwhelmed with customer issues after your most recent app update:  Be like Bruce and go connect with as many customers as you can possibly touch, making clear to them how much you care.

Simply, the lesson I learned at that show added even more resonance to what is becoming my word for 2016 at MergeLane and beyond: CONVICTION.

There is nothing that will drive a startup’s success more than founder conviction. I don’t mean blind conviction. I mean the kind of conviction that listens to mentors, customers, colleagues, and the market before making a decision. I mean the kind of conviction that is constantly learning and growing. Founders with this level of conviction know that failure is possible; they suspend that disbelief and move forward aggressively, determined to win.

If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, and if you’ve made this choice out of a pure, passionate desire to build something, change something, or fix a problem with a genius solution, then do it right. And for me, “right” looks something like an extra-human performance by a group of inspired musicians led by a man who gushes conviction in more ways than I can enumerate.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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