Last week was a big week for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. And, although I had many characteristics of one, I never rose to what I consider to be the true definition of one. (Now, I can finally say that has officially changed.)
Sure, I have been starting ventures, projects, and even full blown online companies with users and revenue since my first paper route at 12 years old, but none of these “projects” were ever my “full-time” job. I always had some backstop (i.e. - a good excuse to tell people why what I was working on failed) whether it was school, a corporate gig, or another job that provided my source of income or security.
To spur on a bit of motivation, I would self-deprecatingly refer to myself as a “wanna-preneur”. And in my opinion, a wanna-preneur is the worst kind of person in the startup world…the type of person that always talks about building a company, can recite every story from TechCrunch for the past 3 months, and is the world’s best critique of why your idea will never work, but never takes the big risk themself.
So, I began to think…why did it take me 32 years to become an entrepreneur even though I’ve known this is what I wanted to do since the 4th grade. So, I made a list and surprisingly, I could only come up with a couple reasons. Here are my personal roadblocks to entrepreneurship:
1. Lack of personal network of technical people
2. Fear of letting go of a secure job and income
3. Belief that you can successfully build a startup while keeping a day job
4. Not becoming part of/participating in an entrepreneurial community
So, let’s break those down:
Lack of personal network of technical people.
I was actually a Computer Information Systems undergrad and learned some front-end development skills (HTML/CSS/Photoshop/etc…) which lead to me building my first startup in 2001 from scratch. So…why did I need technical people if I could code (a bit)? Because as many solo founders will tell you – it sucks. And, at my core, I am product/strategy/design guy even though I can understand and code a bit…it’s not my forte.
Point being, I knew I needed to find a technical cofounder, but I had no idea where to find one. All of my friends were marketers/BD guys/sales guys…and all of their friends were too. I am shocked looking back at how few engineers I hung out with earlier in my life. There is like this invisible Chinese wall between communities of business guys and engineers. Usually they don’t share the same interests and therefore they’re usually hanging out in very different places.
A huge mistake I made was not taking the time to make purposeful attempts to find and develop friendships with more technical-oriented people…whether they were software engineers, designers, web developers or whatever. It never dawned on me that building a personal circle of friends that were engineers was important instead of trying to simply “hire” someone. (Google: “Wharton MBA seeks Code Monkey”…yeah, not good).
Fear of letting go of secure job and income.
All four of these reasons tie into one another in some way…but this one is probably the biggest issue for me. Growing up in a lower-middle class family, we always had enough, but I knew I wanted more. And right way out of college, I found my first year salary to be more than what I ever remembered growing up with. This was a big deal. Giving up this income to start a company would very likely mean that I could end up back in the same financial position where I grew up…and that was simply unacceptable. Instead of letting that fear motivate me into going full-time into my entrepreneurial endeavors, it paralyzed me to stay in a corporate gig I hated.
I had actually built and coded a fairly successful ecommerce startup during my senior year of college and ran it for a couple years afterwards, but it couldn’t generate enough revenues because I refused to go full-time, I didn’t have a technical co-founder to add the functionality necessary to differentiate it from competition, and I refused to quit my job because of the above reason.
So, I was stuck.
What have I learned on this point? Take the biggest risk acceptable to you.
If you refuse to quit your job for security/income purposes…sit down and calculate how much money you would need to “securely” make that decision.
Secondly, start building the company on the side and get it to a stage that you feel comfortable displays enough traction to get others interested in your idea/project.
If fear and security are your issues, systematically attack them. Make goals and promise yourself that you will take certain actions after certain milestones are hit.
Belief that you can successfully build a startup while keeping a day job.
Including this is someone hypocritical of me since I just said in the previous paragraph that you should start a company as a side project. To a certain extent, you can, but you have to know when to say when…and usually most people never say “when” at all. And that’s the point of this post – don’t be like me and take 10 years to grow some balls. The truth of the matter is that keeping your day job makes it infinitely harder to build a successful startup.
Paul Graham has laid this argument out much better than I ever could, but basically it comes down to the fact that it allows you give up so much easier than if you don’t have a backstop. Obviously, it also takes away from your ability to give it 110% as well as reduces your credibility when trying to get co-founders, partners, investors, advisors, etc) to work with you.
No one really takes you seriously until you are “full-time” on your start-up, especially yourself…so, if you believe in yourself, don’t wait.
Not becoming part of/participating in an entrepreneurial community.
You may say, well…duh, doesn’t take a genius to figure out you might want to network with other entrepreneurs. But, I think people severely underestimate the importance of deeply integrating yourself with like-minded people. This is how you meet co-founders, vet ideas, learn best practices, bounce ideas off people. Otherwise, you’re stuck in your own head or reading reactively what others did in the past. Innovation comes from something as simple as a few guys sitting around talking about problems and how to solve them.
What I’ve learned here is that if you truly want to become an entrepreneur…you need to a) geek out w/ some engineers, devs, etc b) contribute to the community and not just troll and c) do it consistently.
My whole theory of becoming a “true” entrepreneur is just to “get myself into the game”.
That’s 80% of the battle right there. I’ve always been confident that if I can get myself on the field of entrepreneurship, I will win…so now the biggest battle is behind me. I’ve been practicing the fundamentals of entrepreneurship long enough that I’m confident the rest is going to come. I have no doubt in my mind about that.
This post probably won’t apply to a lot of people, but if you’re currently a wanna-preneur I hope this helps you to start mapping out actions and milestones to becoming what you really want: an entrepreneur.