Ready To Die Broke
21st June 2012 · 1 Comment
I recently sat on a panel of entrepreneurs at the Innotech conference in Dallas. Toward the end of the session an audience member asked the panel’s advice for someone contemplating the plunge into entrepreneurship. My response was instant, “Don’t do it.” And the other panelists agreed vigorously.
Launching a company is hard in a way that you don’t expect, and can’t possibly understand until you’ve tried to do it. From the outside, it appears that the long work hours are the hard part. Nope. Long work hours are a given. If you’re afraid of long hours, you probably won’t be successful at much of anything.
What’s really hard is the emotional toll of constant uncertainty and self-doubt. The weight of expectations — your family’s, your investors’, your employees’, and your own — is an incredibly heavy load to bear. And in the face of those expectations, you never know if any decision is the right one. You never know until it’s too late which decisions are the important ones, which are the ones that make the difference between six more months and failing tomorrow.
If you really want to experience the full range of human emotion, then start a company. The emotional highs are unrivaled by any experience. But those highs are few and far between. And they fade quickly. Sometimes in days. But most of the time hours. (Sometimes minutes – like after you sign that big contract you’ve been working for six months and suddenly realize you have to deliver the product.) In between those highs is just hope, work,crushing uncertainty, and terror.
I’ve thought a lot about what makes an entrepreneur since that conference, and I’ve come up with an adequate personality test. Finish this sentence:
If my brilliant idea fails, I’ll just ___________.
If your answer is start another company, then you’re an entrepreneur. If your answer is anything else, you’re not.
The reality is that to be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to die broke. You have to be willing to have no retirement. No college fund for your kids. No backup plan. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing not only to fail. You have to be willing to never succeed, but keep trying anyway.
I know that being an entrepreneur sounds fun. And it is for a certain tiny group of people. The defining characteristic of that tiny group is joy in the process of building a company. You have to love the uncertainty.
What I’ve been impressed with as part of Tech Wildcatters is the willingness among the teams here to try and try and fail repeatedly. Those of us that never succeed (and yes, there will be some), will look back on our lives and be satisfied by having been part of the process, regardless of the result.
We aren’t entrepreneurs because we want to be – God knows that I often envy the predictable life of an employee. We’re entrepreneurs because we can’t be anything else. If you can be something else, I’d strongly encourage you to do whatever that is instead. Keeping your job is easier, it’s guaranteed, and honestly, you’ll probably enjoy your life a whole lot more.
But if you’re like us – adrenaline junkies that thrive in environments of extreme unpredictability, chaos, fear, and uncertainty then entrepreneurship is the only way you’ll ever experience the fullness of life. If you’re a real entrepreneur, then start building your company today. Now. This instant. The world needs you to do what others can’t. We need your irrational belief that the world can be better than it is today.