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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Man cannot live on hyperbole alone.

Excitement is a good thing. So is boundless ambition and a (sometimes blind) fanaticism about reaching a goal. It is what startup founders and inspiring leaders are made of. Throw in an unwavering belief that you are the one to make it happen, and you are off to the races.

Well, most of the time.

As a startup advisor, mentor and investor, I meet with a lot of founders. Most of these interactions are interesting, educational, and at times, even inspirational. And then there are those that involve statements like:

“I am the next Elon Musk.”

“My product will disrupt and replace Facebook.”

“This will be the most valuable company of all time.”

I respect the ambition. Heck, I am even impressed with the pinpoint specificity. But if those statements are all you have in your arsenal, then you are not destined for glory.

You are delusional.

Sure you have the “what”. You know the prize. It is clear that you have a laser-like focus on your end game – and passion in spades. (Good for you; here’s a cookie.) But don’t forget about the “how”. Because that kind of matters.

Like, a lot.

Throughout history, explorers never left port without a clear plan for how they would find what it was they sought. Sure, you have the ships ladened with supplies and a swashbuckling crew champing at the bit for adventure. But, you have to first pick a direction. To pull out a compass, and set a course.

Granted, many times they drifted (way, way) off course – or wound up on a completely different continent – but at least they picked a direction, drew a map and then raised the sails.

It is easy in hindsight to look at the end result and believe that was the plan all along. Of course the intent was to discover the new world, right? Craft a poem about 1492 and throw in a rhyme like “ocean blue” and we can gloss over the fact that the shore on which their bow ran aground was not the chosen destination.

Not even close.

Elon Musk was not the Superstar-Entrepreneur-Elon Musk until after years of hard work, sheer will and getting shit done. Facebook started in a dorm room as a way to meet girls, not as a global social network with nearly two billion users. Valuable companies became such by consistently meeting customer demand with the right solution at the right (and profitable) price.

They didn’t just have hyperbole. Heck, they might not have had it at all. Instead, they had action. And more important, results. Small at first, but building with each successive win (or remarkable miss). Every majestic skyscraper starts with a plan – and a strong foundation. Then you begin to build it, brick-by-brick. That, my friend, is how you reach the clouds.

It is easy to look at their end to justify your means. To lean a little too much on the spectacularly grand vision. Don’t forget, though, it was the combination of conviction and coordinates that earned the explorers of yore the funds for their expedition in the first place. You have to do the same, whether you are telling your story, fundraising for your startup, building consensus for a cause or just living your daily life.

Build excitement for the prize. Your audience has to want it as much as you for your mission to achieve lift. Keep the hyperbole, sure, but don’t let it be the only arrow in your quiver. The platitudes begin to wear thin with constant use. And you will quickly lose credibility upon incessant repeating - and nothing else.

Follow through. Close the loop, and put a little meat on those hyperbolic bones. Complement that “what” with a healthy serving of “how”.

You got the sizzle; just don't forget the steak.


Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

There is something about this song. It is simple, but not basic. Beautiful in its complete lack of complexity. Like a good bowl of vanilla bean ice cream. It’s just a Hawaiian dude with a warm, embracing voice and ukulele. That’s it. But every time I hear it, I stop. To just exist for a moment. To reflect, and appreciate the richness of the simpler things in life.

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