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Entrepreneurs told to 'burn the ships'

January 13, 2013 12:10 am

THREE TIMES in the past month I have come across an interesting metaphor that could be useful to aspiring entrepreneurs.

In his best-selling book "Think and Grow Rich," Napoleon Hill writes about how the Spanish conquistadors used to burn their ships when making landfall. The message this sent to the armies was that retreat was not possible, so if they wanted to survive the only option was victory in battle.

Hill uses that analogy to convince entrepreneurs to "burn the ships" on things holding them back from business success. Oftentimes that means moving to a new area, quitting the day job or otherwise cutting ties with a "safety net" that can prevent the individual from going "all in" on the new venture. Entrepreneurs will find more success if they leave nothing to fall back on, Hill advises. Sink or swim, in other words.

(This isn't the only excellent point that Hill makes in his book. The crux to me was that most of success is mental. People must banish negative thoughts from their minds and be willing to pursue their goals with a burning desire to succeed. Formal education and talent can get you only so far; work ethic and strong ideas are more important.)

Hill's "burn the ships" analogy came up during an interview I recently conducted with Christine Goodwin, a longtime computer coder who is launching a company called WishStars that offers an online platform to connect teachers with corporate benefactors looking to make a difference in the classroom.

Goodwin was recently named as one of the state's top 50 entrepreneurs for her work on WishStars (incidentally she will be the Feb. 6 speaker at a luncheon in downtown Fredericksburg put on by the Next Generation of Business Leaders group; contact me for details). Goodwin told me that many times during her career she has "burned the ships," sacrificing her day job to pursue her entrepreneurial aspirations.

The third time this came up was this past week, when local real estate investor Jeremy McCommons advised a roomful of business folks that they must be willing to "burn the ships" of their day jobs if they truly wish to achieve great success. McCommons said the safety net is actually a "hinder net."

McCommons and his business partner, Mark Doherty, practiced what they preached, quitting their jobs as teachers and coaches at Colonial Forge High School in the mid-2000s to start Foundation Companies, which buys, sells and rents residential and commercial properties, as well as MacDoc Realty. They have experienced a lot of success with real estate amid a housing market that has been less than stellar, to say the least.

McCommons made some other points this past week that should prove useful to entrepreneurs. He advised the audience to know what they are working for, to delegate tasks when the type of work is not a good use of their own time, and to work extremely hard but carve out uninterrupted blocks of time for fun and family.

Those interested in reading more from McCommons now have an easy way to do so. He recently started a blog on real estate investing at One of the posts is about burning the ships.

Staff reporter Bill Freehling writes this biweekly column on business, personal finance and investing. He can be reached at 540/374-5405 or

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