mile 12

We obsess about the wrong story when it comes to entrepreneurs.

We love to hear about the person with no experience who enters an industry they know nothing about and turns it on its head.

Starting from childhood, I subscribed to this narrative.

When I was in 5th grade, living in Donetsk, Ukraine, one of my classmates approached me with an idea: we’d cut school to swim at the local reservoir. Our parents were too busy dealing with the recent collapse of the Soviet Union to notice. And it was only one day of school.

I agreed. The only problem, besides lying to my parents, cutting school, and swimming where swimming was prohibited, was that I didn’t know how to swim.

At the reservoir, our favorite game was to jump into the water. I made sure to not jump in too deep so that I could always stand up and keep my head above water.

But on one jump, I jumped further than usual. When I stood up, my head was barely above the water. Given that this was a reservoir, the floor was made of concrete laid down on an incline, and the concrete was covered by slippery algae. As soon as I popped up above water, I felt my body slipping deeper into the abyss.

My friend and I were the only people at the reservoir, and conveniently he had disappeared from view. I thought of screaming. Instead I decided that what I needed to do was dive in. I had seen many frogs swim underwater and I figured I could do the same. If I was going to go under, I wanted to go under on my own terms.

To my surprise, when I resurfaced I was very close to the shore and when I stood up, the water was up to my knees. I had learned how to swim and from that moment on, I jumped further into the water and practiced swimming.

It had rained that day, and when I got home, my mother was waiting for me. She went to school with an umbrella to pick me up and I wasn’t there. I was severely punished.

Sure, I learned not to cut school. But I also learned to dive in head first into things I know nothing about (even if it risked my life).

The first three startups I’ve worked on followed that philosophy. I knew very little about healthcare before I got into that industry. At Tonic, we survived and eventually thrived, but it took us three to four years just to get our bearings. Nearly drowning was not a pleasant experience.

With my most recent company, Turnkey, my co-founder and I thought we’d do things differently. We chose an industry we know: building remote teams. From day one, we hit the ground running. I credit it all to the fact that we work primarily with CTOs and I’ve been a CTO for the past 12 years. I know exactly what our customers need and understand what needs to be done to build a great remote team. Our company has grown from day one. Rather than drowning, it’s a lot more fun to be swimming fast.

Entrerpeneruing where you know best may not make for a great story, but it does make for a great company and happy customers.

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