As I start to get more known in my personal and professional circles for starting a company, I’ve been approached for advice many times on when/if one should start a company.
My answers have changed over the years as my experiences have changed. In the beginning, I’d encourage people to take the jump, but now I don’t.
Here is my current thinking…
TL/DR: If I can convince someone, over one beer/coffee/lunch, to not start a company then they would have given up anyway. I do as much as I can to make them quit in front of me. If I cant, the next bill is on me. Then we can talk shop.
I love being a founder. I love our company and, while it’s been hard and tiring, I would do it all over again 100 times if I could. When I first started getting these questions I would answer with enthusiasm.
“Do it. It’s awesome! Hard work, but so worth it.”
I answered this way because I had some assumptions about everyone that turned out to be wrong.
I assumed anyone could do it. I assumed people could handle the pressure, the emotional commitment, the time commitment. I assumed people could handle the hard work — hell, I assumed people liked the hard work. I assumed that the work wouldn’t be hard for them, just well, hard work. I guess I assumed hard work wasn’t hard in-and-of-itself but more just something that required elbow grease. Willpower. Fortitude.
I can relate it best to running (back when I did that…). Running isn’t hard per-se, as in, it’s not a hard problem. The steps to becoming a decent runner are obvious — what seemingly isn’t obvious is that you actually have to do them in order to become a decent runner. Shoes, pants, shorts, headbands, jackets, and/or apps contribute almost nothing to your running ability. The hardest problems—for me at least — in running are:
1. Getting up early or late at night (before/after work) and running like you mean it.
2. Not stopping.
That means you’re the only one to blame if you don’t start and you’re the only one to blame if you stop. There are no external factors here. No excuses. If you do #1 three times a week and #2 as long as you possibly can than you’ll become a decent runner.
#1 is what stops most people. Most people don’t even try. Most people give up after they’ve spent $200 on the outfit they look cool in.
#2 separates the posers from the winners. If you go out and run, then walk the first time you get tired. You have lost. Running is more mental than that. The relative energy to take one more step is so small that stopping when you’re first tired doesn’t make sense. Push past that. Sweat.
Being an entrepreneur is much like running. There are two things that make you fail. The first is not starting. The second is stopping. Giving up is not entrepreneurial. Giving up just means you’ve wasted all the opportunity cost you’ve forgone to start in the first place. You have to keep going when you’re tired. You have to keep going when you don’t want to. You have to keep going.
This is not a physical or intellectual hardship. This is purely emotional. It doesn’t matter how strong or smart you are. It’s not about how much you’ve thought, studied, worked out, planned, schemed, dreamt, or discussed. This is 100% about how much heart you have.
Entrepreneurship is a game of inches and you’ll win every inch the hard way. Fall in love with the process not the product, result, or goal.
When people asked me if they should start a business I used to say, “yeah do it”. Now I try and convince them not to.
I tell them about everything that can go wrong. I tell about everything they will miss out on. I tell them about how they will become a terrible friend, husband, father, or mother. I tell them how they will have to make choices that will make them feel awful. I tell them that they will be envious of the ones who didn’t start a company. They will wish they had weekends or that they had time to enjoy life itself. I tell them that they’ll feel defeated at the end of every day and that, to make it, they’ll have to get up before everyone else.
I tell them that their idea needs a lot of work. That the business model will need changing (if there is one — p.s. there should be one). That they might not be the right person for the job. I’ll tell them everything they’ve done so far is more or less useless and wont matter.
I do everything I can to try and get them to give up right in front of me. I do everything possible to get them to admit that they don’t really want to start a company — That it is not worth the trouble.
If I can convince them over one beer to stop, then they would have given up anyways. Something else would have made them stop, just much later on. I’m just saving them money, time, and their life.
If they’re crazy enough to proceed after all that then the beer is on me. They’ll need it.
Thanks for Reading,
Brennan is the CEO & Co-founder of SoapBox, the #1 place to work in Canada. Their apps, SoapBox for Enterprise & GoodTalk for Managers, are about those conversations you should be having with your employees… but currently are not.
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