I was at the eMerge Americas conference launch reception at the Loews in Miami Beach Sunday night for a couple of hours, a great networking event. I met a very nice couple who just moved back after spending a number of years in Connecticut. We struck up a good conversation and found a number of surprising commonalities, mostly dealing with like-mindedness, which I think will lead to us finding ways to collaborate. “What kind of client is your consulting work targeted towards?”- I asked. “We work with some big corporate clients, where we can charge for our work, but we are really passionate about helping startups, and that is why we are here”. “Yes”, I replied, “Startups don’t have any money” – as we all smiled in conspiring uniformity as if trying to keep from others a secret that everybody who is a legitimate piece of the puzzle in the startup ecosystem knows well but in reality is not at all a secret. There is no line item for consultants in a startup’s budgeted profit and loss. Everybody on both sides of the imaginary transaction knows that. There is no money in this game. Some great people – like this lovely couple – and all good willed mentors like the ones that line up our roster in the Startup NOW Accelerator program, devote the best of their gained wisdom and talent to pursue a version of success that is not monetary. It is linked to the innate longing to build, or even help others build something bigger than ourselves. The right mentors will flock to the entrepreneurs that persevere and prove that they can help themselves – and will do this because they see in these type of entrepreneurs the raw material that leads to success, and they want to help them accelerate it and take pride in achievement – which is, at the end, in all facets of life, what we all strive for.
A fire destroyed the Midway Hotel in Kerney, Nebraska, in 1893, dealing a big blow to its owner Orison Swett Marden, and his business endeavors. Up in flames went over five thousand pages of his writings, and the original manuscript of “Pushing to the Front”. He had taken 15 years of the little time he could spare during his fruitful business career, to put all this work down in writing. A year or so before the fire, he had decided that he would divest from his holdings and become a full time professional writer. The night of the fire, he lost it all. He took the little money he had left (like most startups of today!), took a train to Boston, lodged himself in a cheap hotel room and re-wrote the book from memory. The following year Thomas Y. Crowell Company in NY published the book, and it became a runaway success, praised as inspirational to them personally by the likes of Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison and Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1897 he launched Success magazine, which still exists today. I believe the launch followed the publication of the book of the same title that same year, of which I bought a 7th edition copy maybe a decade ago.
On page 140 it tells the story of four little larks in a nest, which exclaim in terror to their mother that they must move their nest at once because they had overheard the farmer say that he would gather his neighbors to help cut the grain in the field. The mother told them to rest easy – “Oh, there is no danger yet”. The next night the larks were again all excited and worried because, as they tell their mother when she returned at night, “The farmer was very angry because his neighbors didn’t come to help him…and declared he would get his relatives to help him tomorrow.” The mother replied by stating “There is no danger yet”, and the little birds remained cheerful, as the story goes. When she arrived the third night, she asked for news, and the birds replied that nothing important had happened because the relatives also didn’t come to help him, so the farmer declared that he would cut the grain himself.
Quoting the mother’s remarks from the book: “We must leave our nest to-night!” exclaimed the old bird; “when a man decides to do a thing himself, and to do it at once, you may be pretty sure the thing will be done.” The section ends with this invaluable nugget: “Help yourself, and all the world will help you. Prove that you can do without folks, and they will beg to give you a lift.”
Following Marden’s logic, if we had been running our business accelerator in 1897 – in whatever crazy mind blowing iteration of its structure and processes we could imagine now it being back then – mentors, advisors, and even potentially investors like the ones I saw at eMerge Americas during the day on Monday roaming the Convention Center, or the nice selfless couple I met Sunday night, would have been lining up to help the startups of the time achieve success. Modern life has become too fast, complicated and competitive now to encourage this altruism – you may claim – and prosperity was perhaps not as widespread back then, and Marden exaggerates when he speaks of the “mentors” of his time. I thought hard for a while to figure out what is true and what is not of these arguments. I came to the conclusion that it does not matter. Marden, as the ultimate mentor to everyone – and there is some big truth to that given the fact that “Pushing to the Front” had 250 editions published by 1925 in the US alone, and was known and read in “practically all countries in the world” according to a Marden biographer – wanted to inspire others to get on the mindset of success through achievement, individually and by proxy: by helping others achieve. Success, the book that started the magazine, is subtitled “A BOOK OF IDEALS, HELPS, AND EXAMPLES FOR ALL DESIRING TO MAKE THE MOST OF LIFE”, after all.
I cherish the stories in this thick 338 page book, because it shows me that the mindset and philosophy that pushed achievement over 120 years ago are as applicable today as back then, and I will bet you they were as applicable 200 years ago, and further back, and will continue to be as applicable in the future. I encourage you to take inventory of your best talents and put them to work helping yourself, or helping someone who helps him or herself. If you do both these things, it is almost guaranteed success becomes a corollary.