Beautiful bird.

Reflections on Ambition

Date Published:
July 5, 2013

Ambition is arrived to after a journey, writes Blackbird Partner Niki Scevak.

Ambition is not binary or static. Ambition is not something that exists or doesn’t from the beginning, you arrive at it after a journey.

The concept of ambition is fascinating to me. Like urging a developer to talk to customers, the most common theme of advice I give to Australian entrepreneurs is to dial up their ambition. But those words are superficial and the truth is more subtle.

A common narrative of startups is that they attack billion dollar markets from day one with great gusto; that large ambition from day 0 is required. Each pitch deck contains an obligatory slide around some out of context large number from some firm that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. And then, a stunning growth projection where revenues all magically hit $100m in year 5. But that is not ambition.

Ambition is the process of turning over a series of rocks and discovering what works and what doesn’t. Ambition is the reaction to positive information: do you grow thirsty and change your behaviour to be more aggressive or do you continue along your merry way?

Facebook was originally started as a way for a few college kids to meet girls and not even to be a company. Two years later, it was so clear to Mark Zuckerberg Facebook should reject a billion dollar offer from Yahoo that the board meeting lasted less than 10 minutes. The journey of ambition had been reached.

Mike and Scott started Atlassian with the initial ambition of earning greater than $50k/year in salaries so that they would achieve the same income but be happier in their work life than classmates that took jobs at PwC consulting. The company now has greater than $100m in sales, is quickly approaching 1,000 employees and has the thirst to be a great billion dollar (revenue) company that endures for generations.

To use a poker analogy: You can’t possibly know at the beginning if you’ll win, but do you move all-in on the flop when your hand dramatically improves? That is to be ambitious.