Advice Every Early Entrepreneur Should Hear 

By Mark Scrivner, Co-Founder and CEO

Burn your ships.  

This is a piece of advice I give often, to many early entrepreneurs. It can be hard to hear, and hard to heed. But to me, there isn’t a single more effective way to shift perspective and momentum around your burgeoning business. 

Where ships and entrepreneurship collide

Confused? I’ll explain. In 1519, Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernán Cortés landed on the Mexican shore with 600 men. He made history in more ways than one with that landing. After his men finished unloading the boats, Cortes ordered them to burn every last one.  

Nothing says “home sweet home” like making it nearly impossible to turn back. 

Cortés understood the power of psychology on human behavior, and he wanted his men to be all in on the mission: to settle in what they knew to be the New World.  

The connection? Entrepreneurs are explorers too, and they can learn a few things from Hernán Cortés. 

Paying professional guidance forward 

In addition to launching and leading Snapshot and Ecos, mentoring other entrepreneurs is an important part of my life’s work. I see it as a way to pay forward the advice and guidance I’ve gotten from business leaders throughout my career.  

Ten years ago, I joined Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a worldwide group with an especially large and vibrant chapter in Nashville. Here in Music City, we live the EO mission to the fullest, providing networking and mentoring opportunities to entrepreneurs representing a diverse array of industries. We’ve also worked diligently as a chapter to incubate and accelerate the growth of dozens of entrepreneurial companies through our Catalyst program, helping them reach that crucial $1 million revenue threshold quickly and sustainably.  

Much of my work both within and outside the EO programs has been in advising “pre-revenue” startups—young companies that haven’t generated money yet. Many are ideas born by entrepreneurs with day jobs. As often as not, these companies start off as a side hustle, which makes sense. Work you’re doing on nights and weekends can easily become the dream you want to pursue.  

When early entrepreneurs hit the rocks 

The thorniest, most consistent challenge I see for pre-revenue startups: The founder wants to put a little effort into the idea, but not everything they have. While dipping their toes in the risk- and reward-filled waters of entrepreneurship, they keep a foot planted firmly in a world they think is safer, more stable, and they hold on to that day job. 

I understand the impulse and the fear. I’ve been there, and I’ve felt that. But having navigated my way to the world of the “post-revenue” startup, my best advice isn’t centered around finances, staffing, or scaling strategies. It’s simply, “This is never going to work on the level that you think it can unless you go all in.” 

You’ve got to burn your ships. 

A path to success, or at least lifelong inspiration 

When you devote yourself entirely to your startup idea, the psychology affects your behaviors. Think about placing friendly wagers on events, occurrences, or games. You approach your decision-making a little differently when there’s money on the line. You find yourself being more strategic—more conservative at times, less risk-averse at others.  

It’s the same when you launch a business. When you’ve burned those ships and your livelihood depends on that startup, it tightens your focus, and you see things differently. You think critically; you act accordingly. You recognize how quickly opportunities present themselves, and you also realize how quickly they disappear. When you’re focused and fast, unencumbered by your day job, you’ll win more often. 

If you believe in your ideas: Burn those ships. Even if your venture fails, you’ll have lived your idea to its fullest and given it your greatest focus, free of distraction. And the lessons you learn, with success or failure, will inspire you the rest of your life. 

Need advice or encouragement? Reach out. We’re always happy to connect with fellow entrepreneurs.