He Cannot Do It Alone

Things have been going well lately.  My company is growing, another is starting, and I work with most of my best friends.  We’re at the inflection point every startup hopes they hit.  It’s the difference between a small five-person company and a renowned studio like Teehan+Lax or Big Spaceship.

I was looking through my safe for my passport and was reminded me of something my dad said to me seven years ago.  Well, he didn’t say it, but we understood it.

My dad passed away in October, 2009 when I was 24.  He was terrifyingly smart.  He dropped out of grade 12 with one credit left due to sheer boredom.  He started working three jobs, bought and paid for my parents’ house in his early 20’s.

Years later he trained as a pipefitter at Atomic Energy where he had a near 30 year career.  Although not one himself, he worked alongside PhDs in nuclear physics and engineering, building what they designed. I don’t doubt he could have been a PhD himself, but I suspect he always resented that he wasn’t.

My dad’s fatal flaw was that he would never ask for help.  We used to have intensely technical conversations about the inner workings of nuclear reactors, or debate articles from the business section of the Ottawa Citizen.  Conversely, he found it difficult to talk to me about past mistakes or his health.  It wasn’t in his nature to discuss “personal” things, or to burdon anyone else with problems.

My parents weren’t wealthy people, so at 17 I left for university in Ottawa with only few thousand dollars I had saved.  I had no idea what I was going to do for money in a few months, but I knew I could figure it out.

As I was unpacking I found a small note from my dad.  It simply said:

A boy becomes a man when he realizes he can do on his own.  A man is truly a man when he realizes that he cannot do it alone.

Taped to the note was a quarter.  We never talked about the note, but we had an implicit understanding that I had read it.  There would come a time when I’d need to ask for help, and that would be okay.   A quarter was his way of saying to call, even if it’s not what he would have done himself.

Flash forward seven years later.  We’re treading into waters I never thought we’d deal with:  negotiating multi-million dollar contacts, trying to disrupt entire industries and helping friends build their careers.

To borrow from my dad:  A good entrepreneur thinks that they can do it alone.  A great entrepreneur knows that there is no way they can do it alone.  Thanks for all of the help.  You guys know who you are.