I’m an inventive type. I have come up with all sorts of ideas from a legless patio table I built for Mothers Day in high school to a plow-like snow shovel, self-regenerating automobile paint, and a rubber mat to prevent your dog’s water bowl from sliding across the floor (see Nine Lives). None of these ideas panned out for one reason or another, mainly because of that paradox of money: you need it to make it.
I had another idea that actually had legs (unlike the patio table). I started a business with a Frenchman to sell healthy macarons made with protein and grape seed powder that you could eat at the gym before and after workouts. We called the business “Robert & Brevet.” We incorporated, designed a website, and chose three flavors to start with: dark chocolate, burgundy, and French apple. Ooh la la. We lacked only two things: macarons and money.
We wanted to make macarons that would be healthy, low calorie, and tasty. We had no experience in the industry, so this was a challenge. So we spent months researching recipes, gathering ingredients, and talking to dessert chefs and nutritionists. In addition, we wanted our macarons to be bite size and come in an attractive package. This was crucial, since we identified our target market as young, professional women.
We worked hard, driven by visions of the money that would come pouring in once all those gym fanatics with bouncing ponytails, pumping elbows, and wiggling spandex heard about the “naughty and nice health treat from Robert & Brevet.” All we needed was an initial investment.
I wouldn’t put France at the top of the “Ease of Doing Business” list, especially after trying to get support from the government. It was difficult to say the least. But we tried, even identifying Bourg-en-Bresse, a small town close to Geneva, Switzerland, as a suitable location for production. It was in apple country, had industrial baking facilities, and suffered from high youth unemployment. As the song goes, who could ask for anything more?
Then something happened. After a year of intense planning and networking, we ran out of gas. We both just stopped at the same time. Anybody who’s been in a startup or has had entrepreneurial experience knows the importance of small victories. You need them to keep your morale up and your vision clear. We did not have them. We also both had work and personal commitments. It became obvious that without some kind of sponsorship or angel investor, we would not see even one macaron.
Something else happens to inventive types at this point in the life of a startup. Without the funding necessary to begin production and lacking the time and energy to secure funding, they begin to doubt themselves. Once doubt sets in, it is only a matter of time before things fall apart. As a professional coach, nutritionist, and bodybuilder, my partner believed in the product. I, on the other hand, was simply in it for the money. A mercenary of macarons, you might say. That spelled my downfall.
I should have known better. In the end, mercenaries never win. If money is your sole or main goal, you will not accomplish what you set out to do, not in any meaningful way. That includes things as diverse as war, writing, teaching, and business (these are not as diverse as they seem). You’ve got to do things not out of greed or ambition but–dare I say it?–love.
Am I saying that without love you can’t make macarons? No, but without love you’ll never be happy at anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re making macarons or deep space probes. Ultimately, you will fail, and the failure should not come as a surprise. This is why we never produced even one macaron and my cupboard is full of grape seed powder.
So, what did I do with the time that was freed up when we ended Robert & Brevet? I started a blog, of course.