Entrepreneurial success is celebrated in the press, but according to startup strategist and entrepreneur coach Adrian France, entrepreneurship is really more like a dumpster fire.
“Everyone fails, but no one talks about it,” France told about 100 entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial hopefuls at an International Women’s Day power breakfast at Station House in St. Petersburg Friday.
France co-founded social content platform Odyssey Media Group, and helped grow it into a company with more than 100 employees and $45 million in venture capital funding before leaving the company about two years ago.
After promising the St. Pete crowd that “this is not the cookie-cutter keynote,” she traced her entrepreneurial journey through six lessons.
Expectation is not reality. France imagined a high-tech open-space office, but the company’s first office was in the back of a bagel factory. In the first four years, Odyssey grew from four to 35 publications, but France also said she sacrificed relationships with family and friends, and her physical and mental health suffered.
“You are going through all this struggle, all while trying to vet your idea and hiring employees … when really you are losing your mind and you are terrified because you are worried about failing. That stress is soul-crushing when anything goes wrong,” she said.
Compound time is vital. It’s important for the entrepreneur to spend time on himself or herself. That’s different than work-life balance, she said, because that implies a struggle.
“It’s really about alignment. If you need time for yourself one week, you need to take the time. If you are not mentally there, if you are not physically there, you cannot run the business.”
You can teach skills, but you can’t teach culture fit. It’s important to hire the right people, and people who fit in a corporate culture might not be right for a startup. One bad hire — someone who talked badly about the company — nearly decimated the workforce early on at Odyssey, she said.
After that, “We started building an institutional culture. We wrote down the things that were important to use. One is ‘loose lips sink ships.’ Don’t come and talk to me as the manager. Go talk to the person you have an issue with,” she said.
Another key value was “it’s your responsibility to work on yourself,” and learn the skills you need to grow and advance in your career.
Failure is how we learn. Odyssey later got $2.5 million in financial backing. and the company rebuilt its workforce, but France realized “We were going to fail again, but what happened was we became more resilient and more transparent about it. Every time we failed, we actually celebrated that … We made sure we appreciated all moments of learning.”
Money doesn’t solve all problems. In its next round of funding, Odyssey raised $25 million in venture backing, but with that came more people to report to and less ability to be nimble and change the product.
“Funding is not the goal. Changing the world is your goal. Your passion and your dream is the goal to make that happen.”
Lean into your story. France left Odyssey in 2016, when she said the company was operating but no longer innovating. She sold her home, her car and many of her possessions and moved to Bali for four months, when she said she found entrepreneurs from all over the world who were building a community.
Inspired by that experience, she started doing what she does best when she was back in the United States, helping young entrepreneurs. “You can either be a victim of your circumstance or a creator of your own world. Use your uniqueness,” she said.
She credited Embarc Collective and Startup Sisters, which co-sponsored the event, with creating the kind of collaborative communities that lead to long-term success.
Her own life lessons have taught her to “fail hard, fail fast, and fail upward,” France said. “If you embrace that, it will set you up for success.”