The Not So Sexy Reality of Entrepreneurship
For the past few years with the rise in start-ups and tech companies, entrepreneurship has been thrown into the limelight. And for every dime there’s a blog or article about the how to’s and do’s and don’ts of entrepreneurship.
Actually, the interesting thing about the entrepreneurship craze was the vast amount of contradicting information from one source to the next (and sometimes within the same source). It leaves someone who hasn’t gone to business school, yet desires to begin an entrepreneurial journey, likely confused and unsure of what to do, where to start, and what their experience will really be like.
And after 12 years of starting my agency, and now expanding with a SaaS company that has yet to be launched, I’ve recognized key considerations one should have when taking the entrepreneurship plunge. Seth Godin sums it up nicely:
“ Entrepreneurial behavior isn’t about scale, it’s about a desire for a certain kind of journey”.
Your entrepreneurial experience and journey are unique
There’s nothing like your experience. It’s hard to compare it to other companies. The circumstances that arose to help you create your company and grow it, the ideas, the way you operate, the culture: it’s all unique to only you. And when you read advice from well-known or famous entrepreneurs out there, you need to recognize that what works for them doesn’t always work for you.
As someone who does conversion rate optimization, we deal with our clients constantly wanting to copy competitors. But it never works. Although the competitor offers the same product or service, it doesn’t mean the design changes or features they have on their site can be applied to our client.
The same concept rings true to entrepreneurship. Don’t be a copycat, because it rarely works. Don’t read something and jump to want to implement it in your company culture or processes. It rarely works. And that’s likely the difference between good and bad entrepreneurs. They can determine what will work well for their company, considering their unique obstacles.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t learn from others. But you need to always look at solutions and new ideas from the prism of your own business and its unique needs and challenges.
Break the rules
There are certain rules that many entrepreneurs hold true. But what if you broke those rules?
Jason Fried of 37Signals and Basecamp broke all the start-up rules we’ve been spoon fed for the past few years. He made a conscious effort that he and his employees didn’t keep crazy hours. He made a conscious effort to have a life outside of work. He made a conscious effort to allow his employees to choose where they wanted to work. All of the don’ts we often hear about start-ups, his company defied.
The conclusion: you don’t need to fit a certain mold to become an entrepreneur. On the contrary, you make your own rules.
It’s frustrating when you read these entrepreneurial success stories. They are all so amazing and even the bad and low points turn out to be these amazing miracles in disguise.
Image reading titles like:
Work several years and get little vacation
Live on beans for the next 2 years
Leave your stable paycheck for an uncertain, difficult, no-paycheck life
The hell of bootstrapping
They’d never get published because they won’t excite anyone. Entrepreneurship had been labeled as sexy. The reality won’t make it seem that sexy. And what do you think sells more?
Additionally, we don’t get to hear about the bad experiences because likely they can’t pay a PR company to get an interview and get their story. All the stories we hear are the success stories. Nobody wants to interview the ones that didn’t make it.
We hear about the unicorns. The billion dollar valuations. The glitz and glamour of raising money and making a ton. The lavish lifestyle of the once picked on nerd (revenge of the nerds!).
But there’s a lot we can learn from those who didn’t make it. Because: Shit. Does. Happen. The crazy roller coaster that is entrepreneurship is not for the squeamish.
I started my entrepreneur journey shortly after my daughter was born. First time mom. First time entrepreneur. Not an easy combination. My husband decided to quit his job for good and join me full time shortly after. First time parents. No more stable paycheck. First time entrepreneurs. Even a crazier combination.
And we had some tough years where we needed to cut costs, and stop spending, and control our grocery and life budgets to make it work. We cashed in all of our savings and my husband’s nice 401k. If our business went bust, we literally had nothing.
We worked really hard, shed a lot of tears and stressed more than one should have to. But we made it. We grew. It was worth it.
You fail, but pick yourself back up
Not everything my husband and I did in our careers was successful. Actually, we went through loads of failures at first (and throughout to be honest). We tried to pivot a couple of times as well, and often failed. We tried adding other sources of income which drained our resources even further because they failed.
But failures make you, if you learn from them. If you recognize them as: “heck I really screwed up then, how can I remedy the situation?” A lot of people get stuck in a rut of refusing to accept defeat so they somehow can’t recognize where they’ve failed. But without recognizing where you’ve gone wrong, you become the one thing you didn’t want to be: defeated. You need to be objective enough to see that what you did was a major screw-up. You need to be candid with those that were impacted by your screw-up, which means often times telling customers or your employees: “sorry, I screwed up.”
As we build our software, we’ve run into some of these fails. And it’s pretty bad when you spend your resources, time and effort and tell them, actually that’s not the feature or focus of the feature we want. The screw-up there is in the management and execution. That failure helped us recognize early on where the areas are in our process that need to be mitigated so this won’t occur again.
Another screw up is often in processes. It becomes quickly evident where the bottle necks are. Many times, as a boss, I recognize that I’m the bottle neck. If I refused to admit that I screwed up, I wouldn’t be able to modify the process so that I no longer am holding up events so they can flow more smoothly.
Never stop learning
Bosses and entrepreneurs are always sending their employees to learn more: conferences, webinars, and sometimes online courses. But what about the boss and entrepreneur? Can’t they be modifying their ways personally and professionally? Have you acquired all the knowledge there is to acquire, even within your area of expertise? Sorry, as smart as you think you are, you can always learn from someone else. As rich as you are, you can always qlearn from someone else (even if they aren’t earning as much as you).
And don’t say you don’t have time for this. Your greatest investment in life is yourself.
Never ever stop learning and optimizing your business processes. Don’t ever be stagnant. There was one year in our company where we felt like we were content with our service. Obviously, our clients made us feel this way, but what we failed to recognize is there’s always room for improvement and making clients even happier.
The following year we got hit, because in our area of expertise, you can’t make every customer satisfied and competing companies are always improving and building upon their processes and service to clients.
And even when it comes to the everyday running of our business, we are always reading and listening to books and ideas to consider for improving our sales processes, employee and team member culture/atmosphere, our services, etc.
Education is something we try to encourage our employees to continuously do as well.
I can go on and on about real life entrepreneurial experiences from the everyday entrepreneur. We do well for ourselves, but we aren’t this huge multi-billion dollar operation either. It took many years to get to the point that we got to, and it was gradual, took a lot of learning, and a lot of hard work. I’m confident that anyone looking to start their own business, if they keep the good, bad, and ugly in mind, can find similar and greater success. Best of luck in your next endeavor.