When It Comes to Entrepreneurship, Be A Pig

This article is published by Forbes.com and written by Neil Kane, Illinois Partners I spent a few enjoyable days last week on the campus of several Big Ten universities talking to many people about their entrepreneurship programs. More than once a reference was made to the old saw, “Startups are like a bacon and egg breakfast. The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed.” They said they were looking for passionate, committed entrepreneurs. In other words, pigs.


A university faculty member who launches a company may devote significant time, energy and possibly even money into a startup company. But if and when it fails, it is not catastrophic for them, especially if they already have tenure. For their students and the other employees of the company, however—and sometimes it’s the first job they’ve had—a failure can have severe consequences on the trajectory of their careers. The faculty are chickens, but the employees of the company are pigs.

In 1994 a friend and I started a B2B exchange to address the needs of the foodservice industry. Our platform provided price transparency and took orders from foodservice establishments and delivered them to their distributors electronically—automatically routing the orders into their order entry system without rekeying them. This was pre-Internet and in the day when a fax was the way in which a specialty food distributor communicated prices, which changed daily, to their customers. My business partner made sure that we “burned the ships” so there was no way back. Succeed or die were the only two options we had. We had no alternative exit strategy. Each of us put up real cash, and I spent about a year working on the business without taking a salary. I was a pig.

We later merged that business with another, slightly more established company but one that had already developed the technology we needed. The CEO of that business was an ex-Marine. He used to say that in the Marines, when you see a problem, you pick up a shovel and you do something about it. You don’t sit around talking about it. Stay in action, and focus on the problem. He was a pig.

The winner of the Clean Energy Trust’s 2013 Clean Energy Challenge is a company out of Purdue University called Bearing Analytics. They use innovative sensor technology and data analytics to predict premature failure in industrial machinery. The CEO of the company, a Ph.D. student, put his thesis on hold so he could devote himself full-time to his company. He’s a pig.

When we started Advanced Diamond Technologies, one of our prospective investors wanted one of my co-founders to quit his job as a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and become the full-time CTO of the company. This was an agonizing decision for him because there was no path back to Argonne if things didn’t work out. He was terrified of the risk, but it was a test of his commitment. He made the leap and now he’s a pig.

My father, when he was asked by the VCs who funded Alternative Resources Corporation to put in $x dollars to demonstrate his commitment as CEO, instead put in $2x which really impressed them. My father is a pig.

Nikki Durkin, in her widely read posting about the recent demise of her company 99 Dresses called “My startup failed and this is what it feels like…”, talks openly about the failure. Read it and you’ll see, she’s a pig.

You will never be able to recruit the team you need nor the money you need if you’re not as least as invested as the people whom you are trying to get into the boat with you (or on the bus with you according to Jim Collins).

Everybody knows someone who was really committed, and their passion and willingness to go the distance made all the difference in the outcome of their pursuits—whether it was in business, the arts, athletics, academia, the military or social entrepreneurship.

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NewsCourtney Healy