A rather gruesome quote has been attributed to Sean Parker, entrepreneur and Facebook’s first president: “Running a startup is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood.”
While that analogy is certainly descriptive, it does ring true for many entrepreneurs. I find startups both energizing and exhausting, and I’d compare the thrill to the adrenaline rush a runner gets. In fact, it’s the rush that inspired me to jump into the startup arena after a foray into the corporate world.
My path to entrepreneurship started in the least risky of ways. I went to the University of Waterloo for electrical engineering, and then I did what most Canadian engineers do, I went to work for one of the big guys — Nortel.
I quickly realized that I was a terrible engineer and found myself wondering more about product pricing, sales models and addressable markets. This curiosity didn’t go over too well with my manager, but definitely helped make me a better entrepreneur today.
Work with wicked smart people
The entrepreneurial path can be full of bumps and jumps. During the height of the dot-com craze, I had the great fortune to connect with a group of amazing entrepreneurs, and we founded Cbeyond. Over the course of 12 years at Cbeyond, the team experienced a lot of great and challenging times.
I learned a valuable lesson at Cbeyond — work with great people that do what they say they’re going to do, have a passion for serving customers and give back to their communities. You and your co-founders will spend every waking moment together, so make sure they’re the kind of people you want to hang out with at the airport bar.
Cbeyond survived the dot-com and telecom busts, completed an IPO in 2005 and grew to more than $450 million in revenue.
In early 2012, while an Entrepreneur in Residence at Georgia Tech, I met the partners for my new company, Springbot. We provide an e-commerce marketing platform to help smaller online retailers compete against giants like Amazon.com Inc. The growth of Springbot has been rewarding and has relied heavily on our team, committed investors and the great startup ecosystem in Atlanta.
Tips from an experienced risk taker
When asked about starting a new business venture, I offer the following advice:
- Avoid running alone. If you are considering diving headfirst into the entrepreneurial waters, run with a pack. The aforementioned “rush” is 10 times better.
- Avoid naysayers, doubters and those who say that being a technology entrepreneur is too risky. Perhaps that’s their reality. But, I say that the real risk is never discovering what makes you happy. Ask “why” three times. The answers will guide you.
- Entrepreneurship is not for everyone but it can be great.
- Starting a business is a rewarding and exhilarating experience that requires a ton of work, dedication and risk-taking. Given the recent challenges at Nortel and BlackBerry, however, it certainly looks like being a technology entrepreneur may not be as risky as the more traditional and so-called “safe” route — plus being a technology entrepreneur certainly beats working for a living. ●
Brooks Robinson is co-founder and CEO of Springbot, a technology start-up that leverages big data and marketing automation to deliver an e-commerce marketing platform for smaller online businesses. He can be reached at