Running for President vs. Being President

Article by Jeff Shackelford, Digital Sandbox KC

I recently heard a political term “Running for President is different than being President” that immediately struck me as being very applicable to the world of entrepreneurs and startups. Jeff Shackelford on Startups

Running for President vs. being President

Even me, a non-political aficionado, understood the gist of the statement.  When you “run for president,” you watch polls to gain voter insight, you measure your words carefully to not alienate any potential voters, you set your schedule to put yourself in the right places at the right times to gain press coverage and maximize your voter reach.  At its core, you create and weave a story you believe will resonate with the voters needed to get you elected. 

“Being President” is radically different than “running for president.”  I can only imagine that when you ARE the president, (a job I would never want!) your schedule no longer is your own.  Your days must be filled with reacting to vast worldwide events, responding to thousands of random requests, trying to find ways to compromise with those who have differing political views/agendas and being the PR face for the world’s greatest nation.

What struck be about all this was it sounds eerily similar to being an entrepreneur and starting a new company.  Granted, I haven’t met an entrepreneur yet who says he/she wants to start a company that will have him/her leading the most powerful democracy in the world, but most entrepreneurs are as passionate about their startup as any candidate running for the Oval Office.  If you rewrite the statement to read “Starting a business is different than running a business” you start to understand the similarities.  

Starting a business vs. running a business

When first “starting a business,” you, fortunately (and unfortunately), have some control over your life, mostly because you are just starting your business and don’t yet have prospects to sell, customer issues to handle, product to get manufactured or shipments to manage.  You have an idea (a campaign) that needs to be developed and sold to your “voters”/potential investors (family, friends, angel groups, etc.) or if you’re lucky and resourceful, straight to the worldwide marketplace.  Either way, you must create a story that will resonate with your audience much like a candidate must develop a campaign to reach the voters. 

When you are “starting a business” there is time for creativity, time to ponder all the crazy names you could use for the business or the many colors you could use for your “killer website.”  You have the opportunity to casually reach out to potential customers to get their insights on your business concept without the heavy burden of “trying to close a sale” hanging over the conversation. 

When “starting a business” you have the time and opportunity to network within the entrepreneurial circles and meet new people and gather new insights.  Oh yeah, in many cases, you also have that big gray ominous cloud hanging over your head called “fundraising.”

For those needing to raise funds to start their business, fundraising is their months’ long political campaign.  It’s time-consuming, costly, stressful, has many highs and lows and is usually ambiguous as to where you stand with securing funding until the bitter end of your runway, much like a political candidate who isn’t really sure any of the hard work pays off until the election night results.  As a political candidate, success means getting elected; as a startup that needs funding, success means getting that wire transfer of capital investment.

So, you’ve run a successful campaign, garnered the needed investment capital and now it’s time to “run the business.”   You sit in the “Oval Office” of your business startup… you ARE president.  Life is good and you’ve got the world by the tail.

Until you realize that small group of “voting constituents” that got you elected president has grown exponentially from a few family and friends who initially believed in your idea to now include angel investors, a governing company board, potential new customers to be signed,  existing beta customers who want new features added overnight, vendors and suppliers you rely on to get your product market-ready who want upfront deposits, employees to hire and pay and more. And the realism is that you feel like the world has your tail.  That’s when the reality hits you that you are no longer in control of your schedule and that you spend your days reacting to what is happening around you. Welcome to the Oval Office.  Just be glad that your day-day decisions don’t normally involve leading the free world.  Right then, you realize that “Running for President (starting a business) is very different than being president (running a business)

In the world of politics, if you run for president and win, you also are required to be president for that four-year term.  But in the world of startups, you’re not governed by that same rule.  You can name someone else to “be your president.”  I’ve seen many entrepreneurs with great ideas, form a startup, tell their story and raise capital investment and then insightfully realize “I’m not the right person to be president” and go find a qualified and experienced CEO/COO. 

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen entrepreneurs who had a great idea, form a startup, weave a great story and raise capital investment who insist on “being president” but lack the business experience to handle the day-to-day needs of their business and it ultimately flounders. 

The point is the creativity and skills needed to successfully start a business are very different than the experience and insight needed to run a business, and it is rare to find all those qualities and traits in the same person.  So the next time you think “I should run for president,” just remember if you win, someone has  “to be the president.”

Jeff Shackelford, executive director of Digital Sandbox KC. Jeff has a unique and diverse professional background with a rare combination of Fortune 100 enterprise experience coupled with entrepreneurial, startup and early stage ventures. He has a successful track record of raising equity capital of more than $500M.