Editor's column: Fire in the belly Featured

9:34am EDT July 22, 2002

The young entrepreneur fidgeted across the table from Jack Roseman, mumbling about why he hadn't yet started his business. Meanwhile, Jack, an old-time, high-tech entrepreneur who now spends most of his time sharing his wisdom with younger generations via Carnegie Mellon University, just sat there, listening intently.

The young man complained that he was trying to find the right partners. He groused about the competitive atmosphere. He griped about raising enough money. And he even grumbled about the merits of his ideas.

"What I need is someone to push me off that proverbial cliff," he told Jack.

All the while, Jack continued to sit there, nodding but saying nothing. He had heard the same story perhaps dozens of times from men and women just like the young entrepreneur. And they all expected the same thing from him.

They sought comfort, a bit of advice and, ultimately, a fatherly approval that it was OK not to act. Talk about it enough, they reasoned, and perhaps some day it would happen.

Jack knows better. Still, he listened to the young entrepreneur until he was finished with his litany of excuses. As the man waited for Jack to respond, Jack smiled, then hit the young man right between the eyes -- figuratively speaking, of course.

Instead of patting him on the back and telling him to hang in there and keep dreaming, Jack left the young man with what I would consider the wisdom of the ages. He was quiet and to the point.

"Maybe you just don't have a fire in the belly," he said.

A fire in the belly. His words cut deep, but they weren't meant as a harsh indictment against the young man. He merely spoke a simple truth which, to me, separates entrepreneurs from the rest of the world.

Really, it didn't matter how good the young entrepreneur's ideas may have been. It didn't matter whether he knew his industry and had the brains to grow his proposed company. It didn't even matter whether he could get the money.

None of that mattered without a fire in the belly. It's a simple phrase, but it takes on so much meaning when you apply it to entrepreneurial drive.

Fire in the belly will keep you up at night dreaming, yearning, for success. It's an unbridled passion that allows you to ignore your critics and remain painfully optimistic against all odds. It's a burning vision that enables you to see what others can't because you want it so badly that no obstacle is too large.

It's that invisible hand that shoves you happily off the highest entrepreneurial cliff in spite of the risks. It's a long-term commitment to do whatever it takes to turn your idea into a real company.

Unfortunately, ideas don't just happen. Someone has to guide them, nurture them, breathe fire into them. Talking about them feels good and may even impress some, but not Jack Roseman. His mission, I think, is to help separate those who have that fire from those who don't.

Apparently, that young entrepreneur didn't have such fire in the belly, at least not at that point. Jack simply called it like he saw it.

But while the truth may have stung, Jack's compassionate candor may have accomplished the one thing the young man couldn't seem to do on his own: He helped light the first match. Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Pittsburgh.