I was recently asked by my son’s 4th grade teacher to come and talk to the class about entrepreneurship. They spent quite a bit of time this year learning about starting their own businesses, managing money, making decisions, and writing up business plans. They even hosted an entrepreneur fair where all the kids set up booths to sell goods or services they had created. Each kid had to track their expenses and generate a report to show whether they had made any money.
But the teacher also wanted to expose them to a ‘real-world’ entrepreneur and somehow I got nominated. It turned out to be a fun experience, especially because the kids had a lot of really great questions.
One of those questions was asked by a very insightful 10-year old girl. She asked me how I force myself to go to work every day and work hard if I don’t have a boss. I gave her a stock answer about how I love what I do and if you love what you do, it’s really not hard to self-motivate to work hard, even on the days or weeks when things aren’t going well.
Fortunately, she bought that line.
And while it’s true that I love what I do, the real truth is a little more complicated.
First, I obviously do have ‘bosses’ – I have a board of directors that I report to and shareholders whose investments I want to protect and grow. I have team members who rely on me to do my work to the best of my ability, just as I rely on them to do their work to the best of their abilities. And, of course, we have clients who are the ultimate bosses since they’re the ones that pay our bills.
But I think most entrepreneurs have a little something extra that stokes their fire. For me it’s an almost obsession-like need to prove naysayers wrong. When you start a new business most people don’t understand it or think you’re doing the wrong thing. Usually it takes a very long time to overcome those objections. One of the most satisfying rewards for me is when the light bulb goes off over a naysayer’s head and they pull a full 180 degree turn. Sometimes there are financial ramifications (like a big prospect giving you an emphatic ‘no’ one year and then becoming one of your biggest clients and cheerleaders in the next), but oftentimes there’s nothing more than the moral victory.
I keep a lot of the feedback from the naysayers to serve as my motivational tools. I have a separate email file reserved specifically for when people tell me I’m wrong, crazy, dangerous, or evil. It happens more than you might think, although the incidence rate has definitely declined over time.
I was looking through that email folder this week (which is what got me going on this blog post) and came across the gem below. It was an email from a prominent research physician sent to me three years ago, after we published our very first research studies using FAERS side effect data. I won’t ‘out’ the sender or the topic – but I think you’ll get the gist:
Your report was erroneous and irresponsible. You got this completely wrong. Frankly, I am appalled that any company would pitch this analysis as meaningful. Nobody will take you seriously when you generate unreliable data. You need to go back to the drawing board.
You have clearly developed seriously flawed methodology. Your poor-quality analysis is not helpful and damages your reputation.
Now, was our very first report 100% perfect? It was not. Was it erroneous, irresponsible, wrong, unreliable, flawed, and damaging? It most certainly was not. I replied stating as much and the return email was too NSFW to republish here.
The funny thing is that the sender probably doesn’t even remember this exchange. It likely meant nothing to him. But to me, it means everything. Even three years later and after all of the success we’ve had since then, the indignity and dismissiveness of this person’s email still gets my blood boiling. It motivates me to push to further disrupt the status quo with the data, analytics, and insight we know are right, valuable, and ultimately life-saving.
Related Read: Pharma's Gonna Hate, and We Just Shake it Off
And that’s the real answer to what gets me up at 5am every morning ready to work hard.