As I watched my life play out on the big screen in the movie The Social Network, I smiled, reminiscing about my college days when I, too, was an instant campus superstar like Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder of Facebook. It was a defining moment in my life.
Just like Zuckerberg in the movie, I was a geeky computer science major with a handful of brainiac friends; then suddenly I was “the man” with more friends than I could have ever imagined. I had created a popular, online community for college students, complete with a dynamic book exchange, a dating service, chat rooms, news, photo galleries, and other neat features. Naturally, with my newfound fame came the groupies, the women who didn’t necessarily have an interest in me as much as my ability to rub elbows with moguls like P. Diddy and Kanye West.
Before long, I had my first serious girlfriend, a very demanding one who didn’t take no for an answer. (Recall Eduardo’s crazy girlfriend in the movie.) She didn’t understand that I was a geek and that there was nothing more satisfying to me than coding a brilliant new feature for my website. In other words, she couldn’t accept that she was a distant number three at best, just after PHP and mySQL (computer programming languages).
One night I knew things were going south—and fast. The hour was late. I was in my room working on the computer and in walked my girlfriend. She seductively sprawled on the edge of the bed, naked except for high heels and nylons. I barely noticed. She erupted with fury, screaming, “I don’t need this. I could call some other guys in my black book.” I didn’t respond. I was too busy, already making love to my PC. I had an epiphany that climatic night; I realized just how much ground I had lost in building my company.
Fast-forward. She broke up with me. Simply put, she wanted sex, and I wanted success. Of course, both desires are not mutually exclusive, but the former surely can be a distraction—and in my case, that’s exactly what it was. The fact that my college crush dumped me for being extremely focused was the best thing that happened to me at that moment.
After the breakup, I devoted myself 100 percent to growing my technology and media business. It paid off. Within weeks of implementing my monetization plan, I received my first check from a firm that purchased a banner ad for $1,800. Soon after, I partnered with a classmate and computer whiz. Together we created OmniPublisher, one of the first online content management applications. A few years later, I sold it to a publishing company.
Perhaps this story is a circuitous and somewhat inflated way to prove a basic point, but it is certainly a lesson that all young entrepreneurs must learn: Choose a mate who understands that your drive to succeed at times trumps satisfying their sex drive—among other things. Distractions in the form of bad or draining relationships have wrecked so many businesses. In fact, many venture capitalists devalue a company’s worth based on the increased risk that married cofounders present. When choosing a mate, make sure that person is an asset, not a liability.
Epilogue: Last time I heard, my ex isn’t doing so well. But things have turned out pretty well for me, as it relates to success and . . . you know. I married an awesome woman who loves my entrepreneurial focus and encourages me all the time.
This is a revised segment from the new book The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs.
Kevin D. Johnson, president of Johnson Media Inc. and a serial entrepreneur, has several years of experience leading his multimillion-dollar marketing and communications company that now serves many of the most notable Fortune 100 businesses. As an innovative leader, he has appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS, Oprah Radio, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Moreover, he has appeared on CNN frequently. He is author of the new book The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs.
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