Let me preface this post by saying that if anyone asks me whether they should start a business or not, I invariably answer YES, so please take the no-go comments with a pinch of salt!
Money is not a good reason to start a business. All too often I hear that idealising money is a recipe for a business disaster. Focus on something more noble and sustainable such as:
- Exploring passion for a product by being involved in it every day;
- Improving other peoples' lives; or
- A goal to provide exceptional customer service.
Also remember that personal plans are just as important as business plans. If you are moving countries, busy with a degree or having a child, it may not be the best time to plunge into a new venture. Start-ups require a tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy so make sure you are ready for the fight! Once you start, it is almost always a good idea to move quickly so don't start something that is going to ruin your weekends without providing any upside.
Importantly, let's not forget that banks do not like people who work for themselves. Even though you probably have more financial security than being an employee, "the computer says no!" This is especially relevant if you are young and looking to buy your first house. So even if you just get a job for a while to buy a house then move on, it may be a prudent plan.
Maybe you also want to get some more experience first. Raymond Ackerman (founder of Pick n Pay in South Africa) gave me 2 pearls of wisdom here during a speech:
- "Experience in business is both specific and general. Be in the field where you are getting the right experience."
- "Maybe take 5 years of frustration in a company to get experience then launch a company of your own."
Also ask yourself if being an entrepreneur suits your personality. Someone once mentioned to me that "the entrepreneurial path is like crossing a raging river in the fog, one stone at a time." Do you deal well with uncertainty - does it make you excited or anxious? For me the answer is both so I usually take the brave/foolish approach and say, "let's do this!"
Now all of these go, no-go decisions typically apply to someone in a relatively good job and earning alright money. If that is not you and your career is going nowhere slowly then a good phrase comes to mind: "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." Do not wait for something great to happen, take control of your destiny and start a business. Even if it is just on the side initially. It will do wonders for your confidence and show you that there is literally a world of possibility ready to be harnessed. This is especially relevant if your boss is the oppressive kind that kills your hopes and dreams. DO NOT let it happen I say - more to follow here...
If you have all the right business ingredients and have a gut feeling that you have something that will work then PLUNGE in right NOW. The sooner you start, the sooner you will learn:
- The usual hard lessons of business - this list would be silly long;
- What your customers really want; and
- Whether it is a great idea or something you should put to bed early.
Believe in yourself. Many 'ordinary' people who don't have a clue what they are doing somehow make it big in business. You don't need to be someone important to start a business. This is a bit of a chicken-egg situation because if you start something successful, you will be important. What is being important anyway? Just always remember to back yourself because otherwise it is unlikely that anyone else will.
Most great companies were started in a bar on the back of a serviette, not after drafting a detailed business plan, so do not worry that you do have the knowledge or experience. If you provide a product or service that people want and can sell it for more than it costs you, the rest is details... Obviously the better businesses appeal to a really wide audience and have high contribution margins but we'll save that for later.
Be prepared to work hard - some entrepreneurs think that the hard work is quitting their job and saying "I do" to a business idea. A quote that a VC once told me comes to mind "I don't want to be an entrepreneur because I like sleeping in on Sundays." Harsh words but probably true. As an entrepreneur you don't switch off because every second that you are not working on your business is a missed opportunity to add value. It takes real discipline to take a break and is something that I really struggle with - again, understand your personality.
Overall, there is an entrepreneur in all of us and anyone who has the ambition, can be an entrepreneur. It is true that some will succeed more than others but don't let anyone else make that decision for you. People who tell you that "you can't" are invariably just projecting their own fears onto you, so take no notice. For every successful idea, loads of people will have said it will not work.
Nick Hughes (founder of M-Pesa) highlighted that "human nature is not to take risks" so if we want to do something as illogical as being an entrepreneur then you have to actively silence those fears and charge bravely into the night. And yes, on paper, there is nothing more counter-intuitive than being an entrepreneur. Most start-ups fail, however those that succeed change the face of the planet and without entrepreneurs, we wouldn't have innovation so it is a very noble pursuit.
Lastly, do not worry if you don't seem to be following the path of Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg, these guys are the exception to the rule and their journey literally means nothing to you so don't try mimick it. Rajesh Chandy (London Business School Professor) once mentioned that statistics show that "most entrepreneurs in Silicone Valley don't start up like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs as high-school drop outs who suddenly make it big from their parents garage with a shoe-string budget", but rather like spinouts of bigger organisations that have contacts, credibility and most importantly, capital. So stop beating yourself up about what a start-up 'should' look like and just get on with it. I believe in you and maybe one day we can do business together!
If your stars are aligned and you are ready to start a business, the next post will guide you through generating and evaluating actual business opportunities.
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