A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

How Shonda Rhimes and Howard Schultz Set And Achieve Their Goals

I haven’t been writing as often on my blog lately. People often ask, “What happened?”

The truest answer I can give is that 1Up Repairs, our chain of repair shops, took off beyond our wildest imagination. We now have six stores and will do several million dollars in revenue this year.

Running repair shops is not what I expected I’d be doing with my life after running a funded software company previously. But honestly, it’s been really good for me. It’s been 3 1/2 years since we opened a single store in the middle of Austin, and what a ride it’s been.

It’s also been nearly a year since John and I committed to getting me out of the day-to-day aspects of our repair shops, and getting back into writing, shooting informational videos, and coaching. We’ve mostly succeeded at this point, which is why you’re starting to see new blog posts from me.

Shonda Rhimes and Her Train

I’ve been reading Shonda Rhimes’ book, “Year of Yes.” (If you don’t know who Shonda Rhimes is, she’s the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and several other top shows for ABC’s Thursday night lineup.)

In it, she talks about how she writes for several of her shows. Her shows, she says, are like a train:

“Every single writer I met likened writing for television to one thing—laying track for an oncoming speeding train. The story is the track and you gotta keep laying it down because of the train. That train is production. You keep writing, you keep laying track down, no matter what, because the train of production is coming toward you—no matter what.

Every eight days, the crew needs to begin to prepare a new episode—find locations, build sets, design costumes, find props, plan shots. And every eight days after that, the crew needs to film a new episode.

Every. Eight. Days. That train of production is a’coming. Every eight days that crew on that soundstage better have something to shoot. Because the worst thing you can do is halt or derail production and cost the studio hundreds of thousands of dollars while everyone waits. That is how you go from being a TV writer to being a failed TV writer.”

That train is her pressure. That’s how she performs every week. Is her writing always perfect? No, but it’s arguably always good, and even more importantly, it’s done on time.

Success Often Comes When Your Back Is To The Wall

I’ve read countless biographies of successful entrepreneurs. One concept that often comes up in the beginning, when they were just getting started, is a driving force–a motivation so deep that failure isn’t an option.

This is my chance to be contrarian: I don’t think for many people their initial motivation was a lofty goal of changing the world. Sure, it becomes that later. But for many people who are successful–including me–their initial driving force was to get out of a bad situation.

Howard Schultz, the self-made billionaire who built Starbucks into a global empire, says: “Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families.

And for some reason, I don’t know why or how, I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible. I may have a suit and tie on now, but I know where I’m from and I know what it’s like.” (Howard Schultz interview)

When I started my hosting company, my primary motivation was not having to go back and live with my parents, which I saw as a failure. That motivation drove me–it kept me up late at night writing code, creating ads, and building our website. Six years later, I sold the company for $1.1 million.

With 1Up Repairs, we took on a lease in a highly-visible area. The landlord had me put my house up as collateral. You better believe that was a huge motivation for both of us. If we couldn’t make the store work, I was going to have to sell my house. Long story short, we smashed it out of the park and 1Up Repairs became my most successful business to date. It makes more revenue and profit than my hosting company did when I sold that.

Shonda Rhimes has her train. Howard Schultz desired more money and a happier family. I had my fear of failure, and then my fear of losing my house. These sorts of gut motivations may not always be pretty, or highly aspirational, but they’re what drive entrepreneurs to huge successes.

Most People Don’t Want The Uncomfortable Truth

Here’s another hard truth: If you live a relatively decent life now, and running a business won’t add much to your quality of life, you won’t start a business. Or you’ll start it and wonder why it’s not flourishing.

The answer? You don’t have your back against the wall. You don’t have a huge motivation to become something you’re not.

That’s hard to hear for a lot of people. “Well, I’m not risking my house/family/life!” I totally understand. Shonda Rhimes doesn’t have a fear of losing her house driving her. But she does have an entire crew depending on her. That creates the same pressure that squeezes out a successful business.

Your motivation can be negative (I’m going to lose something huge if this doesn’t work) or it can be positive (the world needs this, and I’m the person who can provide it.) It can be internal or external–Shonda Rhimes’ is external; people depend on her.

So how do you create this driving force or motivation? You have to decide for yourself that wherever you want to go with your business is so much better than where you are now that you’re willing to make huge sacrifices.

What Has To Motivate You

If you know that starting a business is what you want to do, you must internalize that it’s not going to be easy, but the result is going to be worth it. You must be able to continually make the decision to go outside your comfort zone. In order to be successful, you must be more driven by what’s possible than by what’s comfortable.

This is difficult. It’s why most people don’t succeed. They think, “What’s the harm of spending another 30 minutes on Facebook?”

They can’t hold themselves accountable. And they don’t have enough of a driving force, a burning fire, a motivation to make it work.

Make Better Choices

Every day, when you wake up, you have a choice of what to do. Just like you (probably) are, I’m addicted to social media. Social media sites like Facebook employ thousands of people whose job it is to capture our attention for as much of the day as possible. Like cigarettes or caffeine, Facebook taps into our brain and sucks our motivation away. All so it can show us ads and make about $12 a year off of us.

Nine years ago, I wrote about passionate disgust and how I use that to create businesses. I refuse to let staring at social media continue to suck hours out of my life. I’m ready to create instead of consume. That lights a fire in me.

Creating is harder. Building a business is harder. It’s easy and fun to post on social media and count your likes. But it’s an empty high.

If you’re really motivated to leave your mark on this world, or even just give yourself a better life, you have to move social media to the back burner and put the time in to create something real. Something more challenging than a quick, flippant post.

Take some time after reading this post and figure out what motivation looks like to you. You have my permission to make it totally personal if that’s what drives you. There’s nothing wrong with being driven to make your family’s situation better. It’s exactly how Howard Schultz got started.

What, exactly, is going to force you to close Facebook out and stop watching TV? What’s going to be so motivating that you will step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis? What does that really look like to you? Get detailed. Get personal.

That’s where your successful business lies–right in the middle of that burning pit in your stomach.

Welcome to erica.biz!

Photo of Erica Douglass

I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

If you are motivated to change the world and want to learn from my successes (and failures!), please get my free business tips and join over 112,000 other monthly readers!

Join my community…

Featured In


Work with Erica

CEO Coaching
I coach only a handful of top business owners every quarter. If your business is making 6 or 7 figures a year and you're ready to take it to the next level, apply here. »

Popular Posts on erica.biz