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I had a child who died at the age of two and a half years. She was beautiful to me even before she was born. Since the time of inception a heroic vision in my mind of what she would be like fully grown up. What she could offer the world. She took my breath away. She became an extension of myself. She defined me. She was my identity. In fact, she was to represent an identity for a whole nation – a nation without land and beyond borders – Assyrians. She was everything for me. In her being, every yesterday was a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Her name was “I Am Assyrian.com”.
Some of you may remember her.. I Am Assyrian was full of life with a resounding energy devoted to re-imagining our human network. Her birthday was 10 August, 2010. Perhaps she was born at the wrong time but her heart, memory and message still resonates. She was laid to rest in peace on 3 January, 2012 at the cemetery of dead startups. It was/still can be difficult for me to talk about her. I owe her an apology for writing her eulogy this late in life. Her avatar is still alive on Facebook and Youtube. Her DNA is recoded on LinkedIn as part of my resume.
She was gifted in many ways. She was very social. Some people did not understand her or her deep purpose, but I understood her very much. I was proud of her. I watched her grow for two years under my arms. I devoted all my time and resources to her. I sacrificed many things for her sake. I lost a few friends because of her. I got in many arguments defending her.
I am sorry my beloved I Am Assyrian for breaking my silence now.
I Am Assyrian was my startup. It was my first attempt at entrepreneurship but the vision meant so much more to me than just a business venture. It was the first social network aimed at connecting Assyrians around the world. Assyrians are a minority in the world; we have no land to call our own. The vision of I am Assyrian was to create a virtual land; a place to connect, to form new relationships and a platform to accentuate all the positive aspects of our cultural identity. Assyrians are in physical Diaspora, and now, immutably just as vibrant in the cyberspace Diaspora of the Internet and its parallel social domains. Unfortunately, I Am Assyrian did not become the central virtual metropolis I envisioned, but by no means did this effort pass in vein. In fact, I Am Assyrian laid a new path with even grander hopes and a more open mind-set for young aspiring Assyrians.
My feelings about privately funded startups are shared by every entrepreneur. We entrepreneurs who take risks against challenging odds to be part of something big, must be proud. We are lucky to have had a chance to try and start something. We got our chance. Many entrepreneurs don’t even get a chance to start or be part of something that defines their passion. Only a few of us are lucky enough to get a second chance and try again.
I came from a middle eastern society. Failure in those societies is a social stigma. They associate failure with being stupid. Failed entrepreneurs become socially stigmatized and morally untrusted. I truly can say that embracing failure in America is a badge of honor. When I look back to my experience with my startup, I remember some of the key mistakes and have learned from them. Failure is a good kind of knowledge – “what does not work” is an excellent teacher. In those failures, I turned negative to positive. It also helped that I could connect with like-minded entrepreneurs, and other local business people who remain excited about my ideas and musings on life, entrepreneurship, culture, etc. I treasure this unique experience. I proudly wear it as a badge of honor.
My good friend and colleague, John Karantonis and I often connect to share stories, bounce around ideas, and ask for advise– or just dream about what comes next. One of John’s recent remarks resonates with my experience:
“It’s sort of an oxymoron to say this but we often hear suggestions like “don’t get emotionally involved” with [business]; what you’re trying to build. You can’t take it personally. There’s merit to this advice but only in a matter of degrees. I also respect the LEAN methodology for doing start-ups but there’s a paradox. Without the emotional charge and passion to communicate a vision, you will fail to persuade enough customers, investors, colleagues, etc to buy into a start-up. You have to be engaged– but above all else you must never compromise your reputation. Even though we live in a global economy, we have evolved for social and business interaction on a much smaller scale. Don’t burn bridges. In a critical start-up situation, it can sometimes be challenging to separate the personal, emotional experience from the objectivity required in making sound business decisions. You become enamored with the vision and it can cause you to lose site of the fundamentals, but be careful not to undermine partners, customers or employees. Failing at a start-up obviously affects all the people who were involved; and that can be a difficult experience, but if you maintain your integrity it should not hold you back from trying again. The experience and grit you’ve gained along the way will help you..”
I cast my vote with those who call for a National Entrepreneur Day. Our heroic risk is an incentive for others. It is part of economic progress. It is what makes America. Nassim Nichoas Taleb, philosopher and author of national best sellers, writes in his book Antifragile: “In order to progress, modern society should be treating failed entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using exactly the same logic….For there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner) – likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher, any more than there is a successful babbler, philosophaster, commentator, consultant, lobbyist, or business school professor who does not take personal risks. (Sorry)“.
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P.S.: If you have more minutes, then check: Are You Predestined to the Kingdom of Silicon Valley?