Entrepreneurship Isn’t Sexy
October 31, 2013 1 Comment
What comes to mind when you think of entrepreneurship?
The image that many have of the startup world is a bunch of 20-somethings pitching their businesses in hoodies and jeans, playing ping-pong, working flexible hours, drinking lots of beer and Red Bull, and closing million or billion dollar acquisition deals. Entrepreneurship is seen as trendy, sexy, and a fun and easy way to make a lot of money, especially among my Millennial counterparts (60% of whom consider themselves entrepreneurs). People currently employed at other companies view entrepreneurship as the gateway to freedom and prosperity. Universities, cities, and entire states view startups as their economic saviors and as a result bend over backwards to cater to and attract them. This is the picture that has been painted of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurial reality is quite different. As Eric Ries puts it, “Entrepreneurship is not cool, it’s not sexy and it’s totally uncomfortable. It’s boring and grueling, and that part is never part of the movie.”
While some startups enjoy the perks mentioned above, most small businesses fail. Only 60% of startups see their third birthday and less than 35% last a decade. In fact, up to 75% of venture-backed startups don’t return their investors’ capital. This high attrition rate is due to a number of challenges facing any entrepreneur: time, money, space, cash flow, employees, R&D, etc. Of those that do survive, few generate the jobs or revenue that the local or state government expected when they worked so hard to entice them to their location.
In addition to these economic factors, many entrepreneurs find out quickly that starting a profitable business from scratch isn’t the “freeing, happy-go-lucky, sexy” path to fame and fortune that they imagined. There are a lots of highs and lows, long nights, early mornings, long trips, and lonely days along the way (In fact, studies are being done right now to look into the psychological price of entrepreneurship on founders). Milestones almost always take longer and cost more to reach than expected. One bad test or customer experience can end a seemingly promising venture overnight. Founders who decide to bootstrap their business from personal savings, maxing out credit cards, or borrowing money from friends or family face the additional stress of strained relationships with the people closest to them as they pursue their dream to create change.
Do Well and Do Good
This isn’t to say that entrepreneurship isn’t a worthwhile pursuit (I know I have learned a lot during my journey with Agricultural Food Systems so far). The highs associated with achieving milestones and making unexpected contacts, the opportunities to meet and mentor aspiring entrepreneurs, and the potential to change an industry are all major driving forces for startup founders that can’t be experienced in many other environments. There are even ways to fight the stress and loneliness, such as the great suggestions by entrepreneur Meredith Freeman in a recent Fast Company article. Even failure isn’t the desired outcome, it can be beneficial as long as you learn from it and use it in your next career.
However, I would advocate a more realistic portrayal of what entrepreneurship is. It isn’t an undertaking for the faint of heart, but it is not to be dismissed completely. Just don’t expect it to be a land flowing with milk and honey. You will put in a lot of hard work and long hours in order to flesh out your idea and bring it to life within the marketplace. There are days you will be on Cloud 9, while others you’re wondering what the heck you were thinking. It’s all about the perspective that you approach it with (Check out one entrepreneur’s thoughts on 11 things she wish she would have known before starting a company).
Brandon Busteed writes, “Entrepreneurs are the fuel behind everything great this country has and will accomplish. If our attitude about entrepreneurs is linked solely to the idea of business people making money, we fail. If we think that government can’t be entrepreneurial or that nonprofits can’t make money, we fail….Whether they achieve personal wealth or not, entrepreneurs create jobs, change paradigms, inspire new thinking, and contribute more good to society than we can possibly measure….We all need a new bottom line: to do well and do good.”
Entrepreneurs and aspiring startup founders: go and change the world, just don’t expect it to be sexy. Work hard, get dirty, put in your time, learn along the way, and make the world a better place.
Have advice for entrepreneurs or war stories to tell about your business experiences? Share them in the Comments below.
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
[image credit: Eloe Wind on Flickr]