How I Wish I Built This
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How I Wish I Built This

Entrepreneurial drugs and the side effects.

As a writer, entrepreneur, investor, creative individual, I consume a lot of content on a daily basis. One of my favorite podcasts for awhile now is “How I Built This” with Guy Raz. He interviews founders and goes through their origin story, harrowing moments, failures, and then asks if they think their huge success was luck or hard work and intellect. The stories include those of Daymond John, Kate Spade, Ben & Jerry’s, Steve Ellis of Chipotle, Jake of Burton Snowboards and so many more.

A good origin story might not be the first thing you learn about a brand, but it is the big ornate door you pass through when you become a fanatical loyalist. So, my “How I Built This” obsession was rationalized by learning all these origin stories and how important it is when designing fledgling brands. This is something my agency does on a daily basis, so it felt right to hear these stories, find the patterns, and apply the learnings.

It all sounds like butterflies and smells like roses, until the side effect shows up and makes you twitchy. The accomplishments of these individuals are phenomenal, some of them must have access to a time warping device because there are just not enough hours in the day. Yet, the more you listen, the more you get pulled into this world and wanting more of this drug known as “entrepreneurship.”

In my twenty years of entrepreneurship, the word has always been more closely associated with being risk averse, controlling your own destiny, and a certain degree of intellectual freedom. Yet, I’m starting to get my head around the fact that entrepreneurship is less of these things and more of a startup junky’s best friend. These entrepreneurs you see walking around didn’t chose freedom and opportunity, but rather addiction, cravings, and emotional dependency.

Yes, it sounds dark, but listen to enough podcasts and you’ll hear the patterns. Many of these people (I count myself one of them) could only be entrepreneurs, they had no other good path in life. They had to choose the hardest path and then discover the grit to get through. Most are not the brightest in their class and certainly not starting with the most wealth or greatest education. They had grit and an addiction to doing it different, whatever “it” is.

My father and mother were entrepreneurs, so I guess this addiction was seeded in my genetic code. The institution of higher learning willing to take me as an undergrad also stamped me with a “D” in freshman English. I’ve now written three books and countless published articles, redeeming myself in some manner to Prof Farrell’s rubber stamp. Yet, this certainly doesn’t put me in a Harvard class of whatsafuss.

So, this entrepreneurial thing isn’t a privilege or right to those who have achieved something academically or financially. It is the “red pill” you chose to take in order to see the other side. Anyone can take it, you just have to find your own source of grit to keep going when others would have given up and moved along.

If you’re looking for great wealth, there are plenty of easier ways to achieve it. If you’re looking for praise and accolades, try an obscure sport and work hard to achieve an elite status. If you’re looking for status and have the grades, look to professorship and academic excellence. If you’re looking to make a big impact on society, then entrepreneurship is the addiction you should succumb to as soon as you can.

Aaron Keller
Co-founder and managing principal

Aaron Keller is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule, a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, and writes a monthly column for Twin Cities Business.