Why Scale? Entreporn, Exits and End Games

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Launch, scale, flame or exit, rinse and repeat.

It’s all anyone in the world of tech-entrepreneurship and especially entrepreneurship media can talk about.

Because it’s sexy. It’s where the stories and legends are created. A couple of people in a garage giving birth to a multibillion dollar company with a giant exit. Or, more likely these days, a dozen founder teams working day and night for 3 months in a seed accelerator in the quest to crush it on demo day, land serious funding and buzz and create something people can’t shut up about.

Interviews with VCs, founders and employees number 3 bristle with stories of hyper-focused, maniacal devotion on the quest. Everything, every thought, every desire, every waking minute, every heartbeat utterly devoted to launching, rapid scaling, exiting and doing it all again.

Having a life outside the quest to build the next yaddayadda.com is considered the mark of a weeny.

The company IS your life. Relationships, a distraction, unless they happen within the context of the big push, and even then they only complicate things. Lip-service is occasionally given to need to “take care of yourself” or keep hold of life outside the blinders. But behind closed doors, sleep, love, stillness, wellness are for those who can’t handle the push, while the “real” founders and entrepreneurs are off building newsworthy behemoths.

And, anyone who’s not looking to build something mega, to scale to maximal exit value in minimum time, well, they’re just amateurs.

In a fabulous (though very NSFW) post entitled, “Dear Startup World: Chill the F*ck Out” software developer and entrepreneur, Amy Hoy, wrote about this phenomenon and the tech-media’s insatiable quest to cover it, coining the delicious term “entreporn.”

In the tech world, that message is “startups.” And the concept of “startups” almost without fail comes part & parcel with some kind of funding. Pitching, seeking, signing contracts, giving out shares, building a board, having to please them as well as your customers, giving away part of your baby and part of your control — if not much of it.

But all that? It’s not the option. It’s only one of many options for making your own stuff & helping people.

One colossally, epically over-represented, and often incredibly miserable option.

Question is–what drives this? And is there another way?

The quest is generally driven on three levels: Ego, interest and impact.

The desire to solve a big problem, serve a great delight, breath life into a specific idea or serve a community you feel deeply connected to is one piece of it. Worthy motivation, for sure.

And then, there’s straight-up ego.

You want to be known as the person who conceived and built THAT!

And you want the toys, prestige and power that keep you smiling until someone else comes along with a bigger, faster growing X or a bigger liquidity event and becomes the shiny new entrepreneur du-jour.

At which point, your brain, which you’ve programmed to derive happiness in no small part from wealth and notoriety “relative” to others, goes spiraling down the “oh hell no, I’m not done yet!” rabbit hole and starts the entire cycle over. Only this time, even more maniacally.

The all-in intensity of a start-up is an amazing place to be. I’ve gone there a number of times with the launch of my own companies, albeit not at the breakneck pace demanded by tech. And I’m wading back into that arena now as I work behind the scenes to build a much more substantial venture around the public tip of the iceberg that is Good Life Project.

Being breathless in the name of greatness is a wild, fun ride. For a bit.

But, as Hoy offers, it’s not the only way to create something that matters, both to you and to the world. And, as you get a bit further into life, it’s likely not the best way. Ego, interest and impact are not strong enough drivers to blow apart your health, mood and relationships with family and quality of life.

Scaling as big and fast as your sanity and bank account allows (especially with other peoples’ money) may be where the stories and legends the media likes to tell lie.

But, the stories I love to tell, the ones that make my life richer in ways beyond compare, are the ones I make up in the early evening. Lying in bed with my little girl as she drifts off to the characters and worlds we’ve created together over months and years. Pulled from thin air, never to be repeated or written about in techcrunch or beyond.

The stories I love to tell are the ones where I play with my wife in the middle of the day, where we work on building businesses, experiences and life together, where each of our 15 years of marriage have brought us closer, deepened our connection, where simply looking at her from across the room makes my entire body smile. The ones where we’re around each other all the time, and still can’t enough of each other.

The stories I love to tell are the ones where I build meaningful ventures, in service to communities, create art, music, craft language, speak to people, illuminate (still working on that one) and inspire not because of the size of what I’ve built or what people have paid when the companies were sold, but the way I’ve exalted relationships, services and the humanity of the process along the way.

I’m not any better than anyone else. I don’t live anywhere near a charmed existence. I have bills to pay, struggles, emotions and challenges on many levels. I work hard. Really hard. But I work even harder to align my time and energy with what I claim to hold dear in life.

Because I can always start a new company, but I can never relive moments in the lives of my wife and daughter.

We’re all here to do great work, to live good lives and leave a lasting legacy. And, yes, I still harbor a desire to build something very big and very cool. But…

Great work, great lives and great legacies are about depth first, and reach second.

I’d rather touch 100 or 1,000 people on the level of soul than a million on the level of interest or 100 million on the level of passing delight.

Can you simultaneously scale depth and reach on a massive, accelerated level without blowing up everything outside that quest?

Maybe. It’s a question I dance with every day. There are certain simplicity-based approaches to scaling that can inform and accelerate the process. Thought, truth be told, I’ve rarely seen it done well.

And, before you even get to that question, there’s another we all need to answer…



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40 responses

40 responses to “Why Scale? Entreporn, Exits and End Games”

  1. Julie Bennett says:

    GREAT article, so true. Been there, done that. Woken up and smelled the coffee. I don’t have any regrets about my startup past – successes and failures alike – but I sure do live a happier, healthy, more balanced life now. I am still creating…but my motivation is different now, it (and I) comes from a different space… and what I create and grow is in now in greater alignment with who I really am, and what really makes me happy. Oh, and I finally created the time, space and energy for a wonderful relationship… and I’m not going to put my relationship with my husband at risk for a life of crazy hours, demands and imbalance for anything!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Julie – No regrets on my end either. There have, no doubt, been times where I’ve been in all out launch mode for way longer than is cool. And there’s still something in me that’s drawn to that place. But there’s something else that draws me far more powerfully to my ability to be present in a different way at this point in my life.

  2. Jamie says:

    Thanks for this, and right now. As an entrepreneur reneur Dad who just sold my business to my partner this weekend so that my wife and I can focus on our 3 month old and 3 year old boys, and build our new businesses around the life we want for our family, I can definitely relate. I’m excited about the tribe of family entrepreneurs out there that are connecting and creating an amazing world one family at a time. Good on you!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Congrats on the sale, the new kiddo and the shift in mindset. I agree, there’s something bigger going on these days among entrepreneur parents, a movement that I’m loving the gift of being involved in.

  3. Love your statement: “Great work, great lives and great legacies are about depth first, and reach second.” This thought is in the hearts and minds of business owners, but gets displaced by the models the media promote and laud. Thanks.

  4. Barbara Winter says:

    A thousand thank yous for writing this!

  5. Want to agree with you. To be the best requires everything that you have, a tremendous price, no guarantee. Just finished the Steve Jobs book, case in point. Fascinating..but would not trade places with him or his wife. Love his creation
    and the insights into his world.

  6. Sarah Bray says:

    Thank you, Jonathan. This is where my work is going right now, because I was SO THERE last year. Well, maybe not in tech startup crazy-land, but in personal startup crazy-land. After years and years of pushing myself to go further, I finally had to stop and re-assess…why am I doing this? What is it bringing me? And finally, the epiphany — I don’t want this.

  7. I have faith that it can be done. For me, it always comes down to intention coupled with discipline. Being clear with yourself and others what you do, what you can do, and what you want to do and recognizing when you are getting away from your original intent. By communicating your purpose clearly to yourself and others, you open up so many creative doors and possibilities. Which is not to say there won’t be challenges, obstacles and struggles. That’s where the discipline comes into play.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on cultivating balance between work and life!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Ashley – It’s not so much that it can’t be done, but I’ve had the opportunity to know and interview many entrepreneurs, CEOs, artists and creators who’ve achieved what the world would label as professional and artistic greatness. World class fame, multibillion dollar businesses and personal fortunes.

      But, nearly every single one has done it, on some level, at the expense of their health, their relationships or their sanity. Even though some appear to have it all together “now,” very often, “having it all together” is something they’ve circled back to after blowing up the original relationships, health and mindset, attaining career/artistic success on a massive level, then rebuilding with a new set of people and a renwed commitment to health and mindset.

      That said, I still hold out hope and voraciously look for exemplars who’ve done it to learn from and interview. But the fact that, with a fairly high level of access, these people have been exceptionally hard to find also tells me something.

  8. Lizzie Larock says:

    Wowowowow. I love this post, Jonathon. “Entreporn” is the best way to describe it. You just nailed the ick factor and why I have an aversion to a lot of online biz builders these days. I was having trouble articulating what bothered me and you spelled it out. And today I’m off to take my 6 year old twins to dance class, buy new fish for the fishbowl oh and add a little beauty to the world through photography and writing. Thank you for this clear clear message on how I want my life to feel.

  9. Too many people today build businesses and work in careers that take away from their life “outside” of work. I believe their initial thought was with good intention, but they lose that “depth” you talk about and start focusing on “reach” instead. This was a very refreshing post to see from someone as successful as you. Thank you.

  10. Great thoughts. There is such deep pain out in the world. People see these great successes and feel less for it. Teleseminars tell you that you can make thousands posting content on Kindle (or anywhere) and when nothing sells you are defeated. You do the right things and yet you are not making the millions like that guy down the block who was living in his car a year ago. You think if I just suck it up, work harder, better, deeper, farther… if I push it, crush it, become unique, different, prettier, smarter I will get there. And here you are forgetting how rich and wonderful a walk in the sun can be and its free. I know I have hurt myself enough. My weeping friends are exhausted. What story do you tell now?

  11. You said it, why?
    Why go to these lengths to “succeed”, how much is enough?

    That’s what we should define, you are right though I can’t think of an example where someone reached depth and reach AND has a life at the same time.

    Been there and done the startup thing (not in tech) but still it was intense and yes for a while it became the priority.
    So which numbers are we after, the million or the few people who really matter?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I’ve written about aspects of this before. I completely honor the fact that, when you’re launching something, your time and energy allocations will be temporarily out of whack. They pretty much have to be. The problem arises when they become chronically out of whack and you fail to set up circuit breakers that get triggered and bring you back into alignment

  12. Erick Widman says:

    Very well said and right on the money regarding what the media exalts as valuable vs. what truly is valuable.

    We only need to take a look at some recent popular movies to see a common theme: a man wants to spend more time with his cute kids but gets sidetracked with his work (e.g. Gladiator, Inception). Why not put the kids first from the beginning? (Yes, not a great movie, but a great life).

  13. This is the one of the best articles I have read online. Thakn you kind sir. And kudos to you and your wife’s 15-year marriage. Keep on keepin’ brotha!

  14. Curt Finch says:

    I think it’s an excellent question on where to focus efforts. I interpret this to mean, in the case of my company anyway, whether to spend more effort on securing new leads or focusing on making existing customers happy. I find that it is almost always best to place your customer’s needs first, building deeper individual relationships. These are the long-lasting building blocks that you can really base a business on and ultimately depend on when it comes time to expand product offerings or delve into new business territory.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Probably the single biggest miss in business building is the value of delighting existing clients on a level that far exceeds what they’ve asked for and, in their minds, even paid for. Not only will you have clients for live, they’ll end up spending more, telling everyone they know and your client acquisition costs drop. Plus, it’s just so much more fun spending your time delighting and surprising people than it is trying to sell them.

  15. Debra says:

    Hi Jonathan, Thanks for another insightful post. If you don’t have a good ‘Why?’ for what you’re doing then the rest is just tinsel. Reaching deeply into lives and souls and making a difference is so much greater than fame and fortune.

  16. “Great work, great lives and great legacies are about depth first, and reach second.” Amen to that, mister! Unless we are profoundly connected to our deepest soul-self, what can we possibly offer that might serve other souls? And what in the world else is there to do but that? I dance with your two devilish questions every day, and am coming around to the notion that I *have* to keep digging deep. If there is no “legacy” in that for me, so it is. I will sleep well and die in peace..oh, and I’ll have fun in the meantime.

  17. Yes! I love Amy and her message really resonates with me. This took it to another level of depth, because we’re on this hamster wheel of “more, more”… but without asking ourselves “why” then we really don’t get anywhere. (Or at least, anywhere meaningful!)

  18. […] that “going big” is not a “one size fits all” answer. Jonathan fields just wrote a great post about this where he quotes Amy Hoy’s term of “entreporn” for the media’s […]

  19. YamaGma says:

    Once again Jon you make me feel proud to be your mom.
    Reading your words inspires me. Never stop being you!

  20. Kate Howe says:

    Thank you – lovely.

  21. Allison says:

    Word. Voice of reason amidst a cacaphony of outrageous expectations. Thank you as always for your thougtfulness and PERspective.

  22. Like many who’ve commented above I too can attest to the initial fun and exhilaration of a startup (particularly in the tech world) and that roller coaster ride that gets addictive.

    That said I question why it has to be that way, 70 hour plus work weeks, late nights, up at early hours of the morning, driven on caffeine fumes and energy drinks.

    Looking back it was really a case of having no work life boundaries, no sense of a life outside what we were creating. We fell in love with the idea of what our company could become, rather than our present day life and its importance in the grand scheme of building the next Facebook

    Great article Jonathan


  23. Jeff Dolan says:

    Thank you for writing this. Maybe this will turn the noise level down a notch.

  24. Mags says:

    Read this a few nights after quitting my government job and…starting my company so really wonderful to take a breath and realize I don’t have to actually die doing this.:) Thanks for words of true wisdom as I take this journey.

  25. John says:

    Internet startups have always annoyed the sh!t out of me.

    Step One – Find a ridiculous but catchy URL. Farfoooooofle.com is available for any of you reading.

    Step Two – “Invent” some new way of sharing. “See, instead of emailing the picture, I just pin it to my fake pin board! Get it??”

    Step Three – Move on to something else.

    The point I’m trying to make is that this sector is essentially focusing on things that add no value to society. Yes, some people have done big things, but the vast majority of people are simply trying to regurgitate the ideas of others for a quick buck, or to be bought out by a bigger fish.

    It’s just new for the sake of new.

  26. Lianne says:

    Love this, Jonathan. Thanks for shining a light on it and calling the question. I often feel like I’m swimming against the tide as my coaching is not about playing a bigger game and making more money and…more…more…more. It’s about loving and living deeply so that you can end your life like my dad did 14 months ago – with me, his daughter, by his side, holding his hand and telling him that he gave me that greatest gift any father could give – I always knew he was crazy about me.

    I’m seeing the tide changing – and it’s heartening. You inspired me to write about dads for love! http://lianneraymond.com/weblog/2012/3/1/i-always-knew-you-were-crazy-about-me-or-the-steve-jobs-effe.html

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Beautiful, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I agree, there is a shift happening. It’s great to see

  27. Juri says:


    you keep creating great content. Thanks for putting this “on the paper” so that all of us are able to suck it all in and begin creating some meaningful change.

    You are a leader. Thanks for showing your guts.

    Keep at it.

  28. Nick Carter says:

    I was just telling my wife the other day that I think I finally realized why I never won any awards as an entrepreneur: I wasn’t trying to. I was trying to build a solid income that would richly bless my family and those around us, and that’s it. Nothing sexy or exciting. And you know what, I’m okay with that now.

  29. Wow man! You nailed this. As I sat next to my beautifully napping wife on the couch as I cleared through email, I read… “Because I can always start a new company, but I can never relive moments in the lives of my wife and daughter.”

    You keep this more front of mind than anyone I’ve met online (or off).

    Thank YOU!

  30. Erik Proulx says:

    I absolutely love this post. Sharing. And thank you.

  31. Gotta say, it was an amazing read. Great write up Jonathan.

  32. […] 19. Why Scale? Entreporn, Exits and End Games by Jonathan Fields […]

  33. Amy says:

    Having recently started a company, your words have really hit home for me. Thanks!