Feb 3 2014, 9:13am CST | by Forbes
I’ve been looking up to my father my entire life. I have never learned more from a single person than I have from him. But I have a confession to make: I don’t want to grow up to be my father.
Dr. Shri Thanedar grew up with nearly every obstacle an aspiring entrepreneur could face. He was born in poverty. In rural India. To parents who, combined, had less than a high school diploma. He rose above this to earn four degrees, become a U.S. citizen, launch companies that have employed hundreds of Americans, and continue to innovate.
However, if I grew up to become just like my father, I would feel like I let him and myself down. I grew up in suburban St. Louis to M.D. and Ph.D. parents. I spent most of my childhood in private schools. I received near-daily lessons in entrepreneurship at home, and was allowed the privilege to work through college and beyond in low-paying startup environments. I had the safety net of my family if needed. So I owe it to myself to stand on the shoulders of my parents and achieve greater success.
This was the driving force that led me to search for startup success beyond my first company. For many reasons, I could never fully claim the success of an analytical chemistry laboratory as my own. After all, I had grown up watching my dad launch and grow chemical testing labs. That was his success. The world deserved something bigger from me. Incremental improvement was unacceptable.
‘Earning’ Your Way
It’s at the very core of our political debate. In the 2012 U.S. presidential elections, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney led this fight. The mixed-race professor from modest means took on the Caucasian businessman with a rich, famous lineage. Even the out-of-context memes associated with the candidates reflect the dichotomy.
We all want to believe that our own successes are 100% earned. But what if they’re not? How do we judge ourselves and others on this inherently uneven playing field?
My proposal: value the delta. The daughter of migrant workers who becomes an award-winning teacher deserves to be held up for admiration next to the son of a dentist and psychiatrist who builds a billion-dollar company.
As a startup founder living and working in San Francisco, I’m aware both of the recognition that the bootstrapper receives inside the startup ecosystem, and the derision that the concept receives elsewhere. The truth lies somewhere in the middle – we should celebrate those who have succeeded despite limited means while ensuring that fewer people are forced to follow the same paths to prosperity in the future.
The Rule of Three
My grandmother always loved to remind us about her ‘rule of three.’ As the story goes, my ancestors have a long history of rising out of poverty, fighting their way to relative success in one generation, solidifying their power in the second generation, and losing it all in the third.
The bootstrapper begat the businessman who begat the black sheep.
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. While other families may stay on top for a little longer (Conrad Hilton’s second generation rise didn’t come crashing down until great-granddaughters Paris and Nicky), it’s hard to keep the entrepreneurial fire going endlessly. Safety nets can easily become hammocks.
As a proud member of a second-generation of Thanedars, I know I have two responsibilities. First, I’m driven to meet and exceed my own expectations. Second, it’s time to figure out how to break this nasty cycle and keep the motivation strong, for our family and others./>/>
How to Break the Cycle and Succeed Anyway
If not harnessed properly, the burden of high expectations can be an even stronger degrading force than the lure of a safety net.
I’ve learned to ignore the finish line. Just like at LabDoor, mission always trumps exits. Fight upwind for as long as possible, building skills and experiences. When these efforts meet your passion, success will find you.
Every Election Day growing up, my dad and I would sit together and watch the results come in. When a candidate was announced as the winner, the TV station would show footage from the victorious politician’s living room, where they would be surrounded by cheering relatives and campaign staff. Dad would always look at me and say (in a happier version of a famous scene with two other first- and second-generation men), “Senator Thanedar. President Thanedar. One day, that will be us.”
Neil Thanedar is CEO & Founder of LabDoor, a digital health startup that uses science to tell consumers what’s really inside dietary supplements. Before LabDoor, Neil founded Avomeen Analytical Services, an FDA-registered product safety laboratory, and also worked on emerging mobile sports and medical device products. He owns degrees in Cellular & Molecular Biology and Business Administration from the University of Michigan.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Source: Forbes Business
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