Elon Musk, slow down. You’re a great entrepreneur, but as any successful entrepreneur or small business owner will advise you: build one business at a time.
This past week, Elon Musk, CEO of electric car maker Tesla, unveiled his vision of the future, called “Master Plan, Part Deux.”
Not content to just concentrate on building a sexy, safe, and desirous electric car, Musk already has a lot on his plate: building a massive electric battery plant in Nevada, buying the solar-panel company Solar City, and, oh by the way, running SpaceX. Now, in his master plan, Musk has set his sights on developing electric-powered trucks, autonomous buses, and a ride sharing program.
Musk, a true entrepreneurial visionary, is a prime example of the type of entrepreneur I call a “challenge junkie.” When looking at what motivates entrepreneurs, I’ve identified the “Four Cs:” challenge, cash, creativity, control. Typically, challenge beats out all the others (yes, even cash…).
Why? Entrepreneurs often get their business idea by seeing a problem: a need that isn’t being met, an existing product or service done poorly. That’s the challenge they want to solve (and make money too).
But here’s the rub, and where many entrepreneurs and small business owners go wrong. Once the challenge has been met, they lose motivation. They’re not really interested in the day-to-day details of execution. Shipping? Personnel? Managing a website? Boring.
In fact, in running your own business, you may be a challenge junkie like Elon Musk. You may be looking for the next challenge rather than on executing the vision you’ve already started.
“Build one business at a time.” That was one of “Kleiner’s Rules” from legendary venture capitalist Eugene Kleiner, founder of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, who helped create some of America’s greatest companies. He warned entrepreneurs about distractions.
- You only have so much time: Everyone—even Elon Musk—only has 24 hours in a day. No matter how smart you are or how little you sleep, that’s an immutable fact. Even if you’re an amazing delegator with the ability to attract great people, many decisions and deals only you can make. And you still have to answer your key people’s emails.
- You only have so much attention: To build a truly great company, you need to give it more than 25% or 50% or 75% of your attention—it takes 110%. That’s why founders and key employees in startups often have trouble maintaining family and personal relationships. Even while running a small business, you have to keep your focus, and trying to build too many products, too many services, too many distribution channels can keep you from success.
- You only have so much money. Tesla may have hundreds of millions of dollars, but even their investors get restless. Small businesses and startups have far more limited funds. If you spread your financial resources too thinly, you run out of the funds you need to make your vision a reality.
- Others have only so much patience. People want to see results. Whether it’s investors, customers, employees, or your family, they want to know that their belief in you is not misplaced. After a while, even your staunchest supporters want to know that you can deliver what you promise, can make your vision a reality.
To be sure, Musk’s challenge may be much more important and pressing than an entrepreneur trying to create the next social media app. He’s driven to create an ecosystem of sustainable energy to combat climate change.
But right now, Tesla has 400,000 reservations for their $35,000 Model 3 electric car, due out next year. Delivering on those, building a hugely successful Tesla—showing that autos and other devices powered by renewable power sources can be viable and built in large quantities—may be the most important thing Musk can accomplish to help achieve his vision of a future built on renewable energy.
As a challenge junkie, Musk needs to reframe his challenge. His challenge is to build a great electric car COMPANY, not just a great car.
You, too, if you’re an entrepreneurial challenge junkie, need to reframe your task: it’s not enough to just create a product or service to solve a problem. Challenge yourself to build a great, sustainable COMPANY.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on July 27, 2016