So you want to start a company by Michael Fertik, CEO of

So you want to start a company by Michael Fertik, CEO of


New beginnings can be exhilarating, painful, nerve-wracking and glorious all at once.


For aspiring entrepreneurs, starting a company is like standing on a huge precipice – will you fly or fall?


It’s probably both.


That’s why you should make two lists.


The first is simple: “What I Love Doing.” The good news is that no one will see this list but you. That means you can and should be totally and privately honest. Your list can be abstract (“I like risk.”) or very specific (“I like high-stakes poker in Las Vegas casinos.”). The most important thing is to be very, very honest with yourself, even if some of the answers on the list are somewhat embarrassing. (Gambling is perhaps not a source of pride. And, no, if you’re curious, I don’t gamble. Just a useful example here. 😉


To make this list maximally useful, go deeper. For example, what precisely about gambling revs your engine? Is it the chance at an enormous payoff? Is it the act of calculating the odds? Perhaps the rush of adrenaline? Deconstruct, at every turn, your motivations. The better you understand why you love something, the more effectively you can see its connection to your second list.


Now Make your Second List. “What I’m Good At Doing.” Again, you can add items at nearly any level of abstraction. Answers can include: “I am very good at flying in middle seats in coach without feeling uncomfortable,” “I’m very good at cooking,” “I’m very good at cooking lamb roast with tarragon,” “I’m very good at making people feel important.”


Once more, the key is to be honest with yourself. Loving something doesn’t mean you’re good at it. You may LOVE basketball. But you may be too short, slow, and unskilled to play in the NBA. That’s fine. If you love basketball and are very good at communicating, you may be well suited to making and selling marketing services to NBA teams.


And that is what gets to the point. There is going to be some set of natural overlaps between the two lists you generate. It may not appear at first. But it will if you look at the lists and edit them long enough.


The company you start — whatever kind of company it is, from high-tech to low-tech to no-tech — is sitting in the overlapping part of the Venn diagram represented by those two lists.


The sweet spot is in that overlap between your passion and your skills; that shaded area is where you should found your companies. Play to your strengths; apply them to your passions.


Starting a company is hard, and it always involves difficulty and failures. All new companies — tech startups, restaurants, hardware stores — are in a permanent state of risk for quite some time. That’s why this intersection of expertise and enthusiasm is an essential lifeblood for your new venture; when the chips are down, this is the juice you’re gonna need to get up and keep going.


Remember, when the going gets rough — and it will — you need every ounce of extra power to be able to get up in the morning and dominate your day.


Case in point: I was rejected more than 60 times (yes, that number is right) for venture funding when I started my first company more than ten years ago. But I kept going and going and going. Why? I stuck it out because I really, really liked my colleagues and I loved the adventure of doing something so totally new. There was a romantic impossibility in the hugeness of what we were trying to accomplish, and I discovered that this sense of romance was very appealing for me.


Repeated rejection imparted another hyper-practical lesson: as a new entrepreneur, you will make your pitch so many times that by the time you can’t stand hearing it, that’s when the first person will really hear you and understand your vision. Being rejected over 60 times, while a brutal crucible of experience, made me very good at the pitch and we eventually, finally received multiple offers within a few days once we figured out the right path for the business.


There are many roads to success. But it always starts with a combined practical and impractical application of passion and talent. So get a pencil, make your lists, and get started already