Keep a mental list of people who can help you, and then strive to be the go-to person for everyone else.
If you read my last column, you know a couple of things I didn’t do regarding my (as-yet) unsuccessful business venture. They didn’t directly boost the venture itself, so much as enable me to pursue it while still making ends meet in my ongoing clinical work as a radiologist.
What I didn’t get to, in the relative brevity of these columns, was what I feel did put me in a position to launch the project, and come within striking distance of making it a “going concern,” as the financial types might say. Let me start with what leaps to mind first:
Gathering a good team. At least as far back as med school, it was on my radar that anyone and everyone around me would be of prospective relevance throughout my forthcoming career. Coworkers, colleagues, collaborators, competitors-who turned out to be what, years or decades down the line, there was no way of knowing with certainty.
However, it occurred to me that I should be aware of those who stood out as people I’d want to work with versus people I’d rather avoid like the plague. Those with energy, vision, industry, and an honorable/trustworthy nature were “keepers.” Thus, my primary partner in my nearly successful business venture (indeed, the one who originally made the proposition and did most of the legwork on it) was someone I knew from my first semester as a med student.
Similarly, once we reached a point where we might soon be needing more than just the two of us, I had a short list of other folks I’d met in the subsequent 20 years (good heavens, has it been that long?) who I knew I could count on if they became part of our project, and were folks with whom I would enjoy sharing success if our venture did indeed take off.
I also had a polar-opposite list: People who should not be allowed anywhere near our venture, especially during its fragile infancy. It was a lot easier to get on this list: All you had to do was show me you couldn’t be trusted. That included failing to return calls or emails on a regular basis, or a chronic inability to show up on time (if at all). Or recurrently failing to live up to other commitments. Demonstrating various types of “toxic” personality traits would also reliably get you on this list.
Why was the second list so much easier to get on, and thus so much larger? Well, one could say I expect too much of people. Or one could share my cynicism and believe that, for every quality business-partner, there are an obscene number of duds walking around. Regardless, I have been around long enough to know that it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch, and that includes radiology: Let the wrong person in the door, and they can wreck the entire group. It’s a lot easier to keep such parasites out than to recognize and extract them once they’ve made it in.
Not such a big surprise: My primary business-partner, having succeeded in a few projects before this one (even before he went to med school), also had such mental Rolodexes of worthy allies and avoid-at-all-cost contacts. Thus, whenever we needed to add to our team, there was little need for searching from scratch. Indeed, in the multiple months during which this venture played out, we both had occasion to build our lists further.
Being the teammate you’d want to have. Having succeeded in business before, and keeping track of who he’d want to work with, my partner would surely not have chosen to work with me on this project if he didn’t have me on his “good people” list. Same goes for the other teammates I recruited once our venture got going-if the folks I approached remembered me negatively (anything from a slacker to a backstabber), there would be little chance of them saying “yes.”
It’s also not just a matter of being a good teammate, but being a good leader (once you have enough other folks involved for there to be a hierarchy). You might have heard talk of “leading from the front” as opposed to from behind. When a business venture is getting started, and people are figuring out whether it’s something they like, can believe in, etc., they’re probably going to want to see their prospective leaders walking the walk as well as talking the talk. That includes seeing the leaders putting in at least as much effort as they expect from everyone else.
Most if not all of the remaining “how I almost succeeded” points might be considered subcomponents of being the teammate you’d want to have. I’ll leave those for next time.