Friday, September 12, 2008

New Ventures And The World According To Irving

Today's my last day as CMO at a great start-up company in Waltham, and it's definately bittersweet, as always, to leave friends and colleagues you've gone through the mud of start-up hell and heaven with, I'll miss you guys! But onward!

I'll be starting a new company very soon -- sorry, mum's the word, no details yet -- and I've been thinking about start-ups and how you can really get addicted to starting new ventures. Every new venture is certainly an adventure, whatever else it might turn out to be.

In college, I was very lucky to have John Irving as a teacher and he gave us an assignment to read and critique his first three novels, which were written BEFORE The World According To Garp. You may have read some of them.

The night before we were to have a class discussion about his early books with the esteemed author, my friend and I were in a bit of a panic. His earlier books, we both agreed ... how to put it politely ... well, they weren't so great. We were worried we'd have to go into his class and actually say something like "these stink" to his face.

But not to worry, I was young and dumb and didn't understand how a creative career unfolds. He started the class, looking lovingly at his first three novels and talking about all their virtues. My friend and I shot slightly horrified sideways glances at one another, as if to say, "is this guy such an egomaniac, he thinks these books are good?!"

But then he went on to explain all the things he'd learned in each book ... and this class took place BEFORE he left the next year to write Garp. He knew even then, that each "flawed book" was a success because they taught him what he needed to know about what to do next. And that certainly proved true when his fourth book, Garp, was published.

I learned a valuable business lesson from a great writer. He knew what Churchill was talking about when he said facetiously, "Success is going from failure to failure, without a loss of enthusiasm." (And to be fair, there were great things about all three of Irving's early novels, and equally, my current company is a good one, but in an industry which was brand new to me and very technical.)

So as I learn from every start-up I'm involved in, and surely, each has it's ups and downs, challenges and wins, I realize only I can see the value in each experience and make good use of the knowledge gained in each.

I would have to honestly say, trying to work in an industry I didn't know well, and have no native enthusiasm for, was a bad strategy on my part. Ironically, it brings me back to that basic advice I learned in John's writing workshop -- write what you know!