I recently spoke at a career day for high school and university students. In the midst of lawyers, financial advisors, bankers, IT specialists and engineers I was asked to speak about my “career” as an entrepreneur. I was surprised to see a 1/4 of the 60+ kids raise their hands in sight of the entrepreneurial path in their future. A far cry from the 2% I saw at a similar event just 2 years ago.
Despite the willingness of so many to go down this road, I decided to focus my talk on the honest truth about entrepreneurship and correct some myths around this growingly popular line of work.
While most would give the typical “90% of small businesses fail in their first year… blah.. blah” I’d rather focus on the hard truths not many speak about:
It’s a lonely road
More than most career paths, entrepreneurship is typically a solo sport. There are limited avenues to get training, support and a shoulder to cry on. As a result of around the clock hours, too many responsibilities and being absolutely preoccupied with your idea sun up to sun down, there is a limited audience there to support you. As I write this, I can count on one hand how many people I can actually bear my burden to that will understand where I’m coming from.
When you do have someone to talk to, they typically can’t relate to the irrational fire within you to create, own and innovate despite insurmountable odds. It’s quite difficult to explain why you left a great job, opportunity or education for the absolute unknown.
A great part about owning your own business is the fancy job title you’ve just given yourself, CEO, Managing Director, Chief Opportunity Creator, etc… However, once you flip that card over it’s got the rest of your less glamorous duties as well – Secretary, IT Guy, Accountant, Head of PR and Marketing, HR, Sales Director, Head of Business Development and Strategy, Driver, Bookkeeper and the list goes on. To the shock and awe of many of my students, there is no team; there is no fully staffed office. Just my computer, a messy desk, bad posture, myself and way too much coffee.
Every decision you make rests entirely on your own shoulders and you are going to make a few mistakes. A lonely world of 24/7 sole accountability.
There isn’t any money
So many new entrepreneurs have delusions of grandeur about making crazy amounts of money. The almost daily news out of Silicon Valley and the like don’t help the perception that tech founders left and right are making millions instantly.
Unfortunately, the life of most entrepreneurs is that of no paycheck. I’ve gone without an income more often than I’ve had one. A successful mentor of mine recently recounted to me his family giving up protein for a year! And not because they wanted to become vegan!
Entering this line of work comes with a strong willingness to accept risk and the unknown financial implications. You constantly think about cash flow, pray your customers will pay on time and learn to stretch your last bucks further and further than you thought possible. You think you’re a hard worker now? It hasn’t even begun. You just signed up for 2-5 years of no days off and forgetting the significance of the 1st and 15th.
Oh and its even more difficult when you hire a team! Now you have promised your employees that they’ll be able to take care of their families and responsibilities too! The boss might get the dividend check first but typically you’re the last to get a paycheck too.
It is going to take time
Again, don’t romanticize the notion that your riches are around the corner. A recent study on Rich Habits (http://richhabits.net/rich-habits-study-background-on-methodology/) unpacked the amount of time it takes to hit big. It found that for 52% of its wealthy audience of CEOs, entrepreneurs and founders, it took them 38 years! 80% of the self-made millionaires studied didn’t become wealthy until after age 50.
Don’t get too focused on reaching that destination too quickly, it’s about paying your dues and embracing the journey.
I often say there is no 9 to 5 in entrepreneurship. You clock in as soon as you wake up, clock out when you fall asleep and put in overtime during your dreams.
At first there is no work-life balance. Gradually it adjusts and you become more settled. However, constantly dreaming, working around the clock and pushing ideas is what you signed up for! It doesn’t end; you just deal with it better!
It’s a bad lover…
Though on the cusp of soon to be parenthood I can’t compare owning a business to having a child. A child eventually gets up and leaves right? And hopefully comes back to spoil you in retirement!
I liken entrepreneurship to having a crazy lover that you can’t get over. She treats you horribly, never gives you a moment to breath, and causes you sleepless nights of tears and anxiety! Your family looks at you, “I can’t believe you left your ex for this!” “There are so many other good women out there!” Your buddies call you on Friday nights, “No guys, I’m still with her, we’re trying to work things out.” Everyone will wonder why you are still stricken by this lover. And every now and then she’ll give you a smile, a kiss on the cheek or a nice gift to remind you why you fell in love in the first place.
And then it starts all over again…
It’s just downright hard
A business partner of mine often says signing up to be an entrepreneur is signing up for immense depression and immense joy… every single day. Every day there is a new problem to conquer; it’s a thrill and a challenge all at once. Often times the highs are spread out by long lasting low points. Entrepreneurship is preparing yourself to go through a period of suffering and pain with the hope and faith that one day it’ll all pay off.
You are in constant jeopardy of losing it all and having to “go back to work.” There is constant need for focus, fortitude and true grit!
Muhammad Ali was once asked if he enjoyed training. He responded, “I hated every minute of training, but I said to myself, ‘don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
That’s what it’s all about…
It’s also beautiful…
At the end of the day entrepreneurship is also going to be the most fulfilling, whirlwind ride of you life. You won’t regret a day of it, whether you sell to Google for a billion or you go belly up. The lessons and experiences that you’ll pick along the way will be priceless and prepare you to take on any challenge that comes your way. It’ll bring out a better you, the more patient, focused, determined, clear-minded, go-getter dragon slayer trapped within. It will teach you life better than anything else. And you’ll do it all again.
There’s a great video by ExtraSpace.com for soon to be parents on the 10 real rules of parenthood.
It ends with an encouraging boy, “Don’t worry… you’ll do great at it! Hopefully…”
For more insights, rants and motivation tune into our weekly show, The Opportune Time, telling the stories of Joburg’s entrepreneurs, Wednesday 4-6pm CAT on jozimabonengradio.co.za.