Entrepreneur Wrangling

"Creativity" by Steven White During my side of the dinner conversations with my husband in the first months of my VT KnowledgeWorks member company start-up, I regaled him with tales of the new ideas I’d had that day, how I had implemented some of them and planned to implement others.  Known for his appreciative, jolly laugh, he chuckled and praised my innovation and creativity.

After a few months, he laughed less.  One night, after telling him of an idea I’d had and implemented for someone else, he asked, “And how are you getting paid for that?”

I was dumbfounded.  And hurt.  It was an idea.  Ideas are my lifeblood.  Ideas are treasures in and of themselves.  I am an entrepreneur with ideas.

(By the way, we went from a two-income household to a one-income household thanks to my husband’s willingness to be a sweat equity partner in my start-up.  Just an aside.)

My start-up will be sixteen months old at the end of this month and, as many start-ups do, I have taken on clients’ projects at low cost as proof-of-concept test cases.  As a service company, I need my services to work and I need my clients to be thrilled at how they work and at the experience they have while those services are working.  And to glowingly refer those services to others. 

My company has unique services and a unique business model so I can’t point to others’ success to demonstrate my company’s merit.  Other company founders choose other ways, but I have chosen to put my idea out there to test and prove its value rather than wait for others to see its value.  I am risking my time, talent and treasure on others' projects.  I could lose much and gain nothing.

My entrepreneurial clients have each told me recently of new ideas they’ve had.  They would welcome my appreciative, jolly praise for their innovation and creativity.  Ideas are their lifeblood.

I said, “Let’s think about this.  Help me see how that idea will contribute to generating revenue for the project we’re working on.”

What I wanted to ask was, “Why aren’t you putting all your time into the project we’re working on so you can get paid for it, so you can pay me?!”

Oh.  That's why my husband laughed less.

It's just not that simple for an entrepreneur.

I have a very bright friend, married to a very bright husband, who gave birth to three bright children.  “It’s harder,” she says, “with smart people.”

How about with smart people who are creative?  And entrepreneurs?


The blessing and burden of being a smart, creative entrepreneur is that from the fountain of many ideas also flows the few ideas that turn a trickle of a project into a cascading waterfall.

I know this, of course, because I am an entrepreneur.

How does one wrangle an entrepreneur? 

How does one honor the creative process that generates the business ideas and, at the same time, generate a revenue-producing business?  How does one balance the need for ideas to be unbound with the need for business ideas to be herded in the direction of a revenue stream?

For me, consciousness of this process – and of my husband’s sacrifice – helps me lavish my own praise on a particularly iridescent idea that jets from my glorious fountain of ideas.  Just for a moment.  Then I watch the fountain and reach in for the idea, perhaps less shiny but still colorful, that I think is most likely to generate revenue.  That's the one I implement.

I am a wrangled entrepreneur.

At dinner sixteen months after start-up, my husband and I now share three highlights of our days.  For me, the revenue of a relationship is intimacy.  Unbridled overflow washes us away from each other.  From the fountain of all possibilities, I pluck three plump rainbow trout on which we can feast together.


Illustration credit:  Steven White


VT KnowledgeWorks is a unique growth enhancement program open to entrepreneurs in the New River Valley of Virginia and beyond.  Acceleration center and incubation facilities are located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia

VT KnowledgeWorks sponsors include Attaain, Inc., BB&T, Handshake 2.0, Harris Office Furniture, Hodges, Jones & Mabry, P.C., Latimer, Mayberry & Matthews IP Law, LeClairRyan, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and The Becher Agency (TBA).


  1. fantastic post. you really hit the nail on the head. I have run into the same problem time and again, especially when I was self-employed but also now in academia. I just never had the ability to pin it down so eloquently! now I find myself actively restricting my creative side to a few channels – though I still try to write down ideas that I really like, but don't see any avenue to the future (yet). thanks for sharing this!


  2. What a kind comment, Tim, thank you! And you point out a great way to "wrangle" creativity that I use, too. Just because I think it doesn't mean I have to do it – but I often love the idea anyway! I, too, write my ideas down. I put them on loose-leaf, or on paper from a tablet in which I punch holes, and keep them in a binder. I don't feel the idea is wasted this way, or feel sad about losing it. It's stored respectfully for future possible use!

    Felt very gratified to hear I wasn't alone in this. Thank you again for your thoughtful comment.

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