Remarks by Linda Rottenberg
Provost Rice; Dean Potter; The faculty and staff of Babson College;
Class of 2018;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Thank you all so much!
And, to you, Sinan, I appreciate your extremely kind introduction.
Especially because people usually introduce me as “Chica Loca”
(the Crazy Girl);
Or, if I’ve raised money from them, people call me “The Stalker.”
To be clear: Stalking is an underrated startup strategy!
Speaking of unconventional strategies:
My role here today is pretty much to undo all you’ve learned in your graduate studies.
I’m on your side. I grew up just a few miles away in Newton;
For inspiration, I’d attend events at The Arthur Blank Center and Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.
I love Babson. And, I believe in you.
But, I am the ghost of your future failures.
I’m here now to warn you of the mistakes you’re about to make.
I know because I’ve made many of these mistakes myself.
And, because for 20 years I’ve worked with 1,600 of the world’s fastest-growing entrepreneurs—and they’ve made them, too.
So, let’s discuss SIX STRATEGIES for avoiding future failures.
STRATEGY #1: CLOSE DOORS
As a student at Harvard College and later Yale Law School, I was told:
“Keep ALL your options open.
Don’t close any doors.”
If you hear this advice, promptly IGNORE it.
It’s perfectly normal to feel conflicted about which path to choose.
But, if you keep all options open, then you may torture yourself with one foot in and one foot out of multiple careers.
Or, you may face regret, when you give up and choose the path of least resistance.
Closing doors allows you the chance to go all in on your dream.
So, if you’re already planning on becoming a full-time entrepreneur, I’m cheering you on!
If your dream is to start a business or become a chef, but you’re considering taking the job at Goldman or McKinsey to be safe, then I’d urge you to reconsider.
And, since we’re at Babson, let me add this:
The entrepreneurial life isn’t for everyone.
Just because you wrote the business plan, doesn’t mean you have to launch the business.
Closing doors can mean choosing NOT to be an entrepreneur.
President Healey won’t take away your degree!
Close doors today.
If you make a mistake, you almost always can reopen them later.
STRATEGY #2: GET A STARTUP PRENUP
By a show of hands: How many of you have already developed a business plan or launched a new venture?
Keep your hands up if you co-founded your venture with a family member, friend, or classmate?
You’re not alone.
Three-quarters of entrepreneurs launch companies with friends or family.
It sounds like a great idea. I hear it all the time:
“We share a common vision.
We complement each other’s skillset.
We practically finish each other’s sentences.”
The problem: These sentiments rarely last.
Something will change.
Maybe one founder wants to keep growing while another prefers a lifestyle business.
Perhaps someone’s role shrinks, but their equity remains the same.
Or, maybe the idea of three co-CEOs no longer seems so great two years in.
My advice: Formalize your partnership agreement ahead of time.
And, for those of you joining already-existing family businesses, call me later for my advice on how to fire your mother-in-law or ease dad into official retirement!
It may seem awkward to explore a STARTUP PRENUP, but trust me:
If you’re gonna start a business with those you love; have a plan if the love goes away.
STRATEGY #3: FORM A CIRCLE OF MENTORS
For years, I fell prey to the romantic image of the “Soulmate Mentor.”
Who would be THE ONE?
But, wait, I have to find BOTH a spouse and a mentor?
Suddenly, this model was not romantic; it was deeply stressful.
Then, I thought: If I want to avoid climbing a single corporate ladder, why would I rely on advice from a single mentor?
I believe in forming a CIRCLE of mentors.
Your circle should include people at different points in their own careers;
Ideally from different industries and professions;
One should be younger, to keep you up on the latest trends and technologies;
One should be a peer. … Maybe even a frenemy.
Larry Page sought advice from his biggest frenemy, Steve Jobs, before reclaiming his CEO title at GOOGLE.
Build a Circle of Mentors:
You’ll get fresh insights and a kick in the pants when you need it most.
STRATEGY #4: BE LESS SUPER MORE HUMAN
Speaking of kicks in the pants:
Each year, before Endeavor’s big gala, I show a draft speech to my husband, Bruce Feiler, a bestselling author and New York Times columnist.
Each year, he swiftly tears it apart—as he did for an early draft of THIS speech!
“Too much Superman, not enough Clark Kent,” he’ll say.
Wait: I thought it’s the job of a CEO to sound confident; avoid
Especially, I thought, as a female CEO.
It wasn’t until Bruce got diagnosed with aggressive bone cancer in 2008 that I finally heeded his advice.
I had no choice: I wanted to be by Bruce’s side at chemo appointments;
We had three-year-old twin girls at home;
Endeavor was expanding;
And, I was a wreck.
I needed my team’s help and could no longer hide my emotions. … So, I let it all out.
To my surprise, rather than push people away, this drew them closer.
“Now that we know you’re a real person,” team members told me,
“... We’ll follow you anywhere.”
As you become leaders, don’t strive for SuperHuman status.
Be less super; more human.
Next month marks 10 years cancer free for Bruce.
We’re now trying to figure out how to parent TEEN girls!
STRATEGY#5: LOOK BEYOND THE BINARY
When I co-found Endeavor in 1997, company structures are binary:
For-Profit or Non-Profit.
We launch Endeavor as a global nonprofit to build trust for selecting and mentoring high-impact entrepreneurs around the world.
But, Endeavor never fits the nonprofit mold.
We support for-profit businesses, and Endeavor itself is a high-growth venture.
To make matters more complicated:
Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and some others help me establish a co-investment fund, Endeavor Catalyst.
We raise $115M to invest in our entrepreneurs and generate profits for investors, while also making Endeavor self-sustaining.
I think things are going great!
But, as I start describing Endeavor as a HYBRID (Nonprofit + Fund), a board member scolds me:
“You can’t use that word, Hybrid.”
So, I come up with an alternative.
I go back to the board to explain:
“Twenty years ago, organizations were binary;
Just as perceptions of gender were binary.
Today—this is true—Facebook has 71 gender options. The world has moved BEYOND THE BINARY.
You asked for a new word:
Endeavor is the world’s first TRANS-PROFIT!”
At which point, the same board member says,
“I think I like hybrid after all!”
Here’s the reality:
Every for-profit needs a mission; and every nonprofit needs a market.
It’s just conventional language that boxes us in.
Don’t get trapped trying to fit yourself or your career into a traditional label.
Look Beyond the Binary and create your own.
STRATEGY # 6: GO BIG AND GO HOME
The thing I most wish I’d learned earlier is this:
Life will always reveal moments that are chaotic and unplanned.
If you want to navigate these moments successfully:
Make chaos your friend.
But, even more, learn when to slow down; when to shift gears.
For years, I knew only one gear: faster, higher.
I lived the mantra “Go Big OR Go Home!”
Eventually, I realized that to go forward, sometimes you have to take a step back.
I changed my mantra to Go Big AND Go Home.
“Going Home” isn’t just about “work-life” balance, though that’s important.
It means asking the larger questions:
What purpose am I trying to achieve?
What life do I want to live?
And, what world do I want to live in?
Today, as you begin a new journey, you may already be asking these questions.
I know your professors at Babson have encouraged you to think about combining business with social purpose;
And, making sure technology is employed in the service of improving people’s lives.
As you go forward,
As you greet life’s uncertainty, its transitions, and crises of faith;
KEEP asking these BIG questions.
Sometimes it will feel like you’re taking two steps forward, 22 steps back.
If you’re ever feeling stuck, try employing one of our strategies:
Close Doors. Form a Circle of Mentors.
Be less Super, more Human.
Look Beyond the Binary. Go Big AND Go Home.
And, GET a Startup Prenup!
But, if you think these strategies are CRAZY, then
Chica Loca, your Ghost of Future Failures, has one final warning:
“If you’re NOT being called CRAZY, then you’re not thinking BIG enough!”
Congratulations CLASS OF 2018:
Onward and upward!