When I was a kid, being an entrepreneur was something special. Many people envied entrepreneurs and often saw them as so called better people. They envied them for having better cars and bigger houses. Because they had more money. Or at least it seemed so to the ordinary folks like me. The fastest way to slow down business, in my small home town, was to buy a new fancy car. Since people would then start to think that they had been ripped off. Still on the contrary people did not want the responsibilities, the risks and the longer hours. They envied the results, but did not want to walk the walk.
Much has changed since then. The startup boom, shorter careers at one company, gig economy etc. have also changed a lot about entrepreneurship. There are many young companies that are making a lot of noise and want to stand out. Many co-founders, co-owners, equity holders, hang arounds, startup people and so on. All this has somewhat changed how people think about entrepreneurs. But there are also aspects that have not changed at all. The fundamentals are still the same. When you start a new company, you decide to take a gamble on yourself. You decide to try. You believe that the product, service or knowledge you have at your grasp will bring food to your family’s and other peoples’ tables. You are maybe risking all of your savings and a stable income to create something of your own. You are putting yourself in the position that someday you might have the chance to be proud and say: “Look here, we did this.”
Personally I have started to feel that entrepreneurship is much more like having a regular job than people seem to think. You have your daily and weekly tasks and routines. It is not some magical experience of freedom to be an entrepreneur, even though you might have the possibility to adjust your life around work a bit easier. Entrepreneurship is hard work, if you want to succeed, that is. One big difference though being that you work for yourself, instead of something that might feel like a faceless mega corporation. You have the risks, but also get the rewards. You have also (hopefully) decided to work in a field that you love, so you should have an interesting job. At least in the beginning that is… not everyone likes what they have created once the company grows. It you don’t love what you do, you cannot be an entrepreneur. And if the company out grows you, you need to learn to let go (or at least that is what I have heard).
As I see it, the best part about starting your own company is the unique possibility to create the company culture from scratch. There is no bigger moment that will affect the culture than what happens at the start. How do the founders see the company? What are the values the founders share (might be openly communicated or otherwise existing)? How does the founders’ view of the world affect the culture and ways of doing things? When you found a company you have a once-in-a-life-time chance to create a workplace that you will enjoy. A company that looks like you want it to feel.
Still you need to remember that you are part of a business ecosystem. So when it comes to customers and choosing collaborators, more willingness to adjust and make compromises is required. But when it comes to co-founders and recruiting you have the possibility to choose or at least strongly influence who you will work with. Team building is not an easy task. It is so much a balancing of skills, experience, values and attitude. More on the subject here.
So what are the downsides of being an entrepreneur? I can come to think of a few of those too. Probably the biggest one is that you cannot blame your boss for everything that is wrong. The responsibility for making things change is on you and your partners. Complaining about what you yourself have done wrong does not get you very far. This is why it is key to have superb partners, whom you decide to start the company with. If you cannot talk openly with the other owners, you are running a losing battle. You need to surround yourself with great people in order to be successful. Good people are not enough, since they won’t be there for you when things get difficult (and they will). You need partners that you can talk with about what you feel and experience.
One other thing that is not necessary a good or bad thing. But something that in my experience is not for everyone, is that when you become and entrepreneur you put your ideas and a lot of yourself into play. And you might not like the feedback you get from the market and possible customers. It can easily feel very personal. It can feel like you as a person have failed at life.
Market realism has killed many dreamy fairytales. The reason why this all is good in my opinion is that there is no more genuine feedback available than the words of a customer that does not want your product or does not believe in your idea. Entrepreneurs are super happy to get a lot of support (to stay sane), but the tough words from potential buyers or industry experts are often the once that help you develop your business the most. This is also why entrepreneurs need to sell what they offer, so that they get the feedback, first hand. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut. You need to do the selling, the testing and the developing. If you do not like selling, make sure your co-founders do (or get a regular job).
I wish all you brave entrepreneurs a great start of the year. And if someone of you wish to grab lunch in order to exchange experiences, please send me an email or give me call.