Decisions, Decisions

iStock_000006048082SmallAh, decisions decisions. They never end in life, unless you just decide to spend your life as a lump on a log. But even then you still have to make decisions, starting with “I’m going to be a lump on a log.” If, however, you’ve chosen a life beyond lumping on a log, your life is full of decisions. Every day we’re faced with them:

Should I get out of bed?
Should I eat?
Should I wear the wrinkled shirt?
Should I get gas?

Those are routine daily decisions that we all have to make, and there’s nothing  exciting or risky about them – we all make them. We’re not paralyzed by them, unless we suffer from a disorder, as some do.

There are other decisions that are far more important, that we don’t face every day, decisions that affect our lives and the lives of those around us. Decisions like…

Should I marry her?
Should I have children?
Should I buy this house?
Should I get that operation?
Should my child get that operation?

People who are in business for themselves, whether they’re a self-employed contractor doing roof work around town, or an MIT scientist who discovers a new  vaccine, face a whole different set of decisions. These entrepreneurs make a huge decision once they decide to go into business. Some decisions entrepreneurs face…

Should I start my own business?
How do I get my first customer?
Can I afford to pay a staff?
Can I afford to pay myself?
Do I really have a business here?
Can I make money?
Should I raise money?
Should I incorporate?
Should I trade equity for money?
How much control do I give up?
Should I keep doing this?
Should I fire this person?
Should we expand the business?
Can I keep doing this?

The list goes on and on. These decisions have a way of putting an abnormal amount of stress on an entrepreneur because they’re piled on top of the routine/daily decisions, the big life changing decisions, and yet at the same time an entrepreneurs decisions affect herself, her spouse, her children, her family, her social life, her employees, her partners, her customers, her investors, shareholders, board members, etc. There are more people who have a stake in an entrepreneur’s decisions than one might first realize. It’s facing those decisions every day that partly define an entrepreneur. Some are good at these decisions, some aren’t. Some can make these decisions with little help, others need lots of help.

The hardest decisions I’ve faced as an entrepreneur have been the ones that affect individual people – like having to lay someone off, or fire them. There is just no way around it – it hurts the entrepreneur, the employee, and those around the employee.

Recently I faced another hard decision. This one pertained the direction of my company and pertaining those who were at the helm with me. You might say that I was at a point where I felt like my number of options were becoming more and more limited. And for an entrepreneur like me, who’s a fast decision maker after a quick risk/reward assessment, there’s nothing worse than being out of options.

Over the last few months I’ve had to face a reality that was hard to come to terms with – that the company that I’ve built with Bob over the last four years, that I’ve put so much of myself into, was slipping from my grip. I was not pleased with the direction it was going and my vision for the company was moving towards my periphery instead of where it had always been – straight in front of me. Something had to change, and some decisions needed to be made. Others agreed.

Ah, decisions decisions. They can halt you in your tracks. Some people can go their whole lives regretting one decision, and it becomes something of a curse. I knew I was at one of these splits in the road but I couldn’t be hasty. This decision required a lot of thought, and it required a lot of smaller decisions along the way, like playing a game of chess or poker.

A couple of weeks ago, the decision was made and almost immediate effect at many levels. And at the risk of being secretive, but in light of the fact that this decision was a sensitive one, I’m unable to explain what the decision actually was. It’d be inappropriate of me. Also, not knowing the ultimate outcome yet, it’d be reckless. But what it pertains is the very course that CitySquares takes in the near future and long term future. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. It’s the difference between growth and prosperity or slowly suffocating. It’s about change. And change starts at the top.

Sometimes you don’t know if your decision was the right one for quite a while, and sometimes you know instantly. Sometimes you can go back and change your decision, other times they’re finite. This one was finite.

I learned something during this process, and it was something that I knew but hearing it from one of my investors, hearing him articulate it, and having him look straight into my eyes while saying it, really drove it home. What I learned was this: I am the founder of this company. While I have shareholders and a board of directors, it’s me and my vision that the investors bought into. It’s my passion, my knowledge of the space, my guts and gusto, my vision that got us this far. And if I believe in myself at least as much as my investors believe in me, then I must have an equal amount of conviction and gusto when presented with decisions that do not align with my vision and strategy of the business.

At the end of the day, when I have to rest my head on my pillow, I have to be able to say “I made the right decisions today.” Not making the right decisions, and not making them in timely manner, is the difference between sleeping well and not sleeping well – the difference between doing right by my own Self, doing right by those that trust me (from investors and shareholders to staff and customers) and one day living with regret.

I’m extremely pleased with my decision so far, and I’m proud that I turned this corner as an entrepreneur. Time will tell if they were the right decisions, but I refuse to be a lump on log and let others make them for me.

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Choices and Decisions

decisions1A choice is not the same as a decision. The two are very different. A choice implies you have options, and doesn’t have a sense of conviction. A decision, on the other hand, is very much a choice with conviction. Should I have the vanilla or the chocolate? That’s a choice, but not one of conviction, I don’t suppose. Voting for Obama was a decision, a big one, and one that carried with it some strong convictions.

Today was a very difficult day for me, as founder and as CEO of CitySquares. In fact, today was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had at CitySquares because it was the culmination of some very hard decisions, decisions that affected everyone, yet that also protected everyone. These decisions challenged me in the roles of CEO and founder. Wow, how different they really are. Recently I’ve been wrestling with this for the first time. I never saw it coming.

You might suggest that the CEO says, “I look out for the bottom line” and the founder says, “I look out for the company.” The two are not the same!

As founder, I have a big vision, a huge amount of passion for this, and I’m insanely optimistic. These things can blind me. And as someone reminded me today, “that’s really your job, Ben. No one else can do it” These things are essential.

As a CEO I have to execute on the vision, harness the passion, funnel the optimism. These things, too, are essential.

Today I found myself caught in a limbo between Founder and CEO. The founder in me wants to protect everyone, make them believe that the world is a good place, that everything is going to be just fine, and shelter them from the debris and the noise and the dust being kicked up all around us. The CEO in me wants to tell it like it is and let them face these decisions on their own, and test their commitment to the company, test their will, and test the guts and passion that we asked for when we hired them.

And therein lies the point: when the going gets tough who are you? Who are you really concerned about? Who do you look out for? Do you take one for the team or do you just move forward with your own agenda.

I posted a tweet earlier this evening about today, and I was totally taken aback by the responses I got from folks. People near and far wrote me privately either through twitter or through facebook to ask if I wanted to talk about it, just to talk, founder-to-founder, or as friends. I have to say, that, in itself, meant so much to me. It reminded me how being a founder is lonely. But it’s times like these that your tested, yet again.

Choices are easy, decisions are hard. I know I made the right decisions, and doing so resulted in more choices for others. That’s a pretty powerful thing. Now you just have to hope that it all works out.