(Caution: This video contains some profanity. But it's one of the most entertaining keynotes ever. Be sure to go to 7:40 as that is when the speech gets going and the laughs start kicking in.)
Most entrepreneurs who've had success under their belt know what it feels like to question their purpose and to ponder "what-if" scenarios. But it's in those times of equivocation that purpose, direction and determination are lost. What do you do to avoid this? "Burn your boats!"
That's the No. 1 lesson first-time CEO Neil Young, founder and chief executive of ngmoco, shared with the 400 attendees at Vator Splash February in San Francisco. "Burn your boats" has become a popular expression to represent commitment. It originated from the story of Captain Cortez, who, in the early 16th century set out to conquer Central America. Upon arriving, he told his soldiers to burn their boats, giving them no choice but to fight and win, or die.
In like vein, entrepreneurs need to commit to winning, or just die. There's no in-between. After all, why wouldn't one pursue greatness, when the work you need to do to be OK or average is just as hard, Neil explained. Neil, shared this first lesson through the words of George Stevenson, the father of co-founding partner, Bob Stevenson. George is a 68-year-old Scottish entrepreneur, who's "huge" with strong opinions, said Neil.
To visualize George, just think of Fat Bastard giving entrepreneurs advice.
"Start-eps are haaard," said Neil, in his Fat Bastard impersonation of George. "Whah would yew do thet. You're stuped. It teks the sem energeh teh create a new companeh en a smell company, than it does to create a beg company in a beg macro.
"Don't be a pussy... Swing for the fences. Do something big. And, when you do, burn your boats!"
And, so Neil did.
On June 26, 2008, ngmoco was bornd. By July 31st, Neil received his first financing from Kleiner Perkins. In October 2010, ngmoco was sold to DeNA for $400 million.
To see a great write-up of Neil's speech, read Ronny Kerr's version: ngmoco's Neil Young: Don't be a pussy.