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In comedy, the longer you make an audience wait for a laugh, the bigger the laugh should be.

Deliver small laughs in rapid succession or big laughs intermittently. Few, great comedians can do both but it’s a short career for comedians who do neither. The wait must be worth it.

Founding a business is similar.

The two years we battled our lawsuit were the most taxing years of my life. It was expensive and stressful. Despite the exhaustion, I gained a lot of first-hand experience.

I learned about negotiation, corporate litigation, cash flow, and business strategy.
I learned about trust and loyalty.
I learned about friendship.
I learned about myself.

The learning was valuable, but not enough.

It was in this season a friend recommended the book The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It skillfully depicts the ups and downs as a founder-CEO. Years later, these concepts still resonate:

WFIO

Pronounced whiff-eee-o, it stands for “we are fucked, it’s over”. Every business has low points when it seems like all hope is lost. It’s common for founders to go through many of these moments within a business. Hearing this, I immediately felt relief. It also prompted me to reconsider whether I was willing to endure more of them within the current business.

Wartime vs Peacetime

There are leaders who thrive in times of peace. When things are going well and the road ahead is clear, they’re at their best. Other leaders shine during wartime. Wartimes within business consist of struggle, uncertainty, or unpredictability. The best leader in one environment may not translate to the other.

Learned, not taught. 

There are 273,000 words in the English language. You could know every one without being able to carry on a conversation. Communication is more than words. Entrepreneurship is similar. You can familiarize yourself with every theory and concept but be unable to start, grow, and lead a company. The only classroom for entrepreneurship is within a business, doing the work.

Founder-CEO 

The toughest role within a company is the Founder-CEO. Since they are ultimately accountable AND have been around since the beginning, everything is their fault. They don’t have the benefit of “blaming the last guy”. There is no last guy. They have been around during every major mistake and failure of the business.

My biggest takeaway from it all?
I should really want what I’m chasing.

If what I’m chasing doesn’t motivate me, inspire me, or provide meaningful upside, I should do something else.

Quitting has a negative connotation. That’s unfortunate.

The shame of quitting or fear of failing causes founders to hang on longer than they should. 

What if we could apply our learnings toward something new?
Something more desirable?
Something more aligned with the person we’ve become?

Time is all we have.

If we must struggle, let it be in pursuit of what makes us come alive.

PS. This lesson feels somewhat incomplete. The thoughts are still being formed and reshaped. After rewriting it 4 times, it was time to press publish for now. Perhaps that’s my 11th lesson: Give ourselves permission to be in process.

Godspeed,
Morgan J Lopes

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Acknowledgements and gratitude for these learnings. A special thanks to…

  • Pete Bernardo for calling out and encouraging a wartime leader.
  • Craig Johnson for challenging the line between my identity and being a founder. I’m not sure you even knew that’s what was happening but I’m grateful it did.
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