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What Kanye West can teach entrepreneurs about resilience

Jul 04, 2018 | Posted by Cristina in Newsletters

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“Before anybody wanted K. West beats
Me and my girl split the bucket at KFC
Dog, I was having nervous breakdowns
Like man, these niggas that much better than me?”

(lyrics from Touch the Sky, screenshot from Otis video)

Kanye West knows a little something about resilience. Almost 20 years ago, the idea that he could be a rapper was considered absurd.

He looked nowhere close to anyone’s idea of what a hip-hop artist should look like. They were expecting hustlers with baggy clothes, while Kanye was wearing popped collar pink shirts and never sold drugs around the corner.

He relentlessly pitched his rhymes at record labels, small and big, but nobody wanted to sign him. He was laughed at and he’d leave meetings feeling frustrated and crying all the time. Not even Jay-Z wanted to sign Kanye first at Roc-A-Fella, saying he wasn’t “gangsta” enough.

However, Kanye believed in himself and persisted. He’d lock himself in a room and do five beats a day for three summers – and he’d later reap the rewards. In 2001, he produced a big chunk of Jay’s album “The Blueprint”, which established him as a producer.

In 2002, he was involved in a car accident – a near-death experience that he used as an inspiration to write “Through the Wire”. Kanye recorded the song with his mouth still wired shut (he had reconstructive surgery to his jaw), and released it as part of his first mixtape. And, as they say, the rest is history – it became his breakthrough hit.

What would have happened if Kanye lacked the confidence in his vision to push through? What if he would have listened to they naysayers, or taken into consideration their feedback and “pivot” into something else? Would he have still earned the hip-hop throne? Would we still be talking about him today?

As entrepreneurs, we often wonder if we’re just facing temporary setbacks and need to wait a little longer, or it will never get better and we’ve reached a final dead end. There are tons of sleepless nights when we obsessively go over our decisions, wondering if we’re doing the right thing, or perhaps we truly are crazy, as others often remind us.

I’ve been through this before. In 2007, I started a project that (almost) nobody believed in. I wanted to build a celebrities blog, music-centered, without any trace of gossip, clickbaity titles, scandalous statements, SEO techniques or other “best practices” for growing an audience. People who were older, smarter and more successful than me kept telling me it will never stand a chance. It grew into the most popular music blog in my home country, and also the first to be sold – a successful exit, despite the mid global financial crash.

Now, ten years later, I’m experiencing the same “you’re crazy, this stands no chance” attitude towards The CEO Library. These aren’t only external reactions, but legitimate questions going through my own mind at any time: “Books? Nobody reads anymore these days!”, “Why should people go to The CEO Library instead of GoodReads?”, “How will this ever make money?”, “Who reads newsletters that are this long?” (yes, people actually unsubscribed with that complain message. if you’re reading this, I love you.).

So, will it work? Are those voices right? How will I know when’s the moment to quit? Or spin-off? I have no idea. I’m not a good role model. I’ve had my share of failed projects in the past years. I still feel guilty for some and wonder if I haven’t quit too early.

There is no easy answer, no universal solution or mental framework to help you navigate the stormy entrepreneurial waters, no matter what those business authors will tell you.

But I am certain that in order to get through the pain of building a startup, you have to love and truly believe in your mission. You have to know your why. And yes, perhaps a dose of craziness and hunger is also needed, so you don’t tolerate half-hearted attempts or end up quitting too early in the uphill battle.

Note: This is an excerpt from our weekly newsletter – if you enjoyed it, subscribe and dive into more similar thoughts on entrepreneurship + books that we recommend.

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