The Entrepreneur Also Rises

By Startup Issues

I had some free time this weekend and watched “Empire of the Sun” starring Christian Bale and John Malkovich. The movie came out in 1987, but I saw it for the first time Saturday.

The premise of Empire of the Sun is that an aristocratic British child is separated from his family (living in China) at the start of World War II after the Japanese invade China. The child is forced to live on the street and is eventually interned in a Japanese POW camp.

I’m glad I did not see Empire of the Sun when it first came out, because I would not have fully-understood the characters’ emotions. In fact, I would have likely grouped the movie with other “where are the parents?” movies like The Goonies or Adventures in Babysitting in the late 1980s.

While I was a child in 1987, I have 2 children in 2008. My experience as a parent helped me understand the anguish of losing a child.

However, there will be situations where you (and I) will lack experience and be at a disadvantage in understanding another person’s emotions and subsequent decisions. In these situations, you must do your best to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel and react if put in the exact same situation? Answering that question before every negotiation or interaction will yield positive results for your startup.

As an entrepreneur, it may feel as though the world consists solely of you and your idea. And for a period of time, that may be true. But eventually, and in order for you to implement your idea, you will have to interact with and rely upon many individuals and groups. And they will all come with their own sets of emotions, decisions, and priorities.

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For example, when hiring an employee, you should understand that no matter how many stock options you throw at an employee, those stock options will not feed his or her child for some time (if ever). Thus, an employee’s hesitance to accept stock options in lieu of other compensation may not have anything to do with his or her view of your startup’s future. He or she may just have a child to feed today.

In the startup world, reducing egocentrism and increasing empathy will have positive effects for your startup when dealing with employees, vendors, co-founders, or venture capital firms. By better understanding others and their motivations, you will increase the potential for agreements. Focus on the reason and not the answer. You may be able to find a way to make it work.


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