Entrepreneurship – 1
This is another piece under Challenge 44 – which is a project to improve my writing in 90 days. This is the first phase and the purpose of this phase is meeting a deadline rather than making remarkable content.
Just as a reminder, this article is primarily addressed to those who are considering entrepreneurship as and alternative to getting a job. For those of you who have read my story of displacement, adventures, and unconventional ways of getting a job, you would think that I was built to be an entrepreneur. Truth be told after all those years of uncertainty and insecurity more than anything I wanted stability and security. So, coming back to the US my very first priority, as it is with so many other immigrants, was to get my green card and ultimately my US citizenship. That was key to freedom. I knew that once I am a permanent resident of the country I can do anything I wanted. Again, I think that is belief or feeling that is shared by many immigrants, especially when they come from turbulent environments. I think this focus for getting my green card which logically made sense also let me to overlook the value and opportunities that were presented to my by working at GE at the time. I was to young and inexperienced having come from the background that I was coming from to appreciate the career advancement opportunities presented to me at GE. I was more after the shiny object of the latest technology. I was hungry to learn the latest thing and in looking back realize my superficial approach to what I wanted to do with my life. I left GE only weeks after I got my green card and remained in Washington area. I told people that my decision was driven by having friends and relatives in the area, but I am not sure that was the case.
But now that I had the security of remaining in the country and do whatever I wanted to do, a new giant was awakening in me. I wanted to start my own consulting business. Looking back I can assure you that I did not know much about entrepreneurship and running anything. I can’t quite put my figure on whether this interest was driven by a desire to be independent or just inexperience. But the fire was there. At that time, a very good friend of mine Deba took me to a free business counselling session offered by volunteers and that session was eye opening and frightening. The lady was talking about having our idea sorted out, doing a venture feasibility analysis, having a business plan, doing market research, on and on. I don’t know if it is this meeting or other subsequent encounters that started to dampen my enthusiasm. I started to realize I had no clue what I was getting myself into, and I guess I was too damn lazy to figure things out. So, I turned around and joined IBM and for the next 7 years just coasted and enjoyed the privileges of working for that great company. Again, my focus was “learning”. It is about this time that I started to realize I have never had any guidance or mentoring in my life. Rather than trying to figure out where I should be heading, I was still trying to go after the shiny object, what I saw around me as the norm and just trying to strive for the same thing others were doing.
It took me 7 years before I let the giant within me to wake up again. Was it the right time? Was I going about it the right way? Probably not. But I did it. I left IBM at a time the company was growing and very successful and started my own business. By then I had learned enough that I had done some market research, competitive analysis and now I was in execution. Looking back I will tell you that besides my drive, and my enthusiasm to learn whatever it took, I was still clueless. It would take me another 15 years of fun, turbulent, exciting, roll coaster experiences before I started to learn what an entrepreneur needs to focus on. It is definitely important to have fun, but having fun is not the reason to start your own business.
So, in the remaining sections of this article I will share with you what I learned which might be helpful to consider before jumping in.
I think discovering your why for having your business is a critical factor. But not every why will do. There are numerous books on this topic and encourage you to study them carefully. What I will say is that whatever your why is, in one shape or form need to relate to why people want to be your customers. The most successful businesses with the highest degree of resilience are those who are driven by that why. These businesses don’t have customers, they have fans. Their customers wouldn’t leave for another company even when the competitors provide services at a cheaper price. Having such a business is exciting, fun, challenging, and very rewarding. But most businesses never get this right. Most businesses are “me-too”s. If your why becomes a strong idea behind having your business, the least of your problems would be money. Most money people, i.e. mature investors, banks, etc. understand numbers and when a concept can be translated into financial parameters, it becomes easy for them to see if it makes sense. If it makes sense to them, that means they are getting more money out of your business than they are investing. You still got to Hussle and sell the idea but they will get it.
Personality and attitude
The type of approach I described in the previous section will become less dependent on you. That in fact should be the goal of all entrepreneurs- designing a business that can run independent of them and succeed on the strength of the idea, the resources and especially talent that you can draw to the business. But that is not where most people start or would like to end. Many people want to have a little business of their own so they don’t have to work for someone else. To be blunt an if you forgive my saying this the reason many people who don’t want to work for someone else are also people who are not necessarily very good at working with others or leadership; and I use myself as the example. I guess if I want to state the same thing in a more balanced and fair way I should say that we all have strengths and weaknesses and our weakness in one setting could also be our strength in another setting. Let me give you an example that is very relevant to owning a business. Most business owners work extremely hare and at least at the beginning do everything themselves. While this is necessary for survival, many can not figure out the point when they need to step back and potentially even at the cost of earning a little less employ and empower others to help them. The second word is the key to success. Not only hiring the right people but empowering them to get things down. Some business owners are detail oriented and that is a strength but they are the ones who find it hared to let go. Some others are less into structure and detail and while they are more open to engage others they also take too much risk in hoping things and people work out on their own. Since I can’t write a thesis on personality profiles in this section I highly recommend every aspiring business owner to take both Myers-Briggs and DISC personality assessment to and take note of the strengths and pitfalls of their personality when it comes to business ownership. This would be a great guide on what kind of business owners you would be and what kind of help and resources you might need to succeed.
Who’s working for whom
May people go into business ownership because they want to have freedom in what they want to do and soon realize that other than having a less structured work environment, not only they don’t have freedom because they are working like a dog much harder and longer hours than they did for an employer but the also don’t have the security of a paycheck. Am I dissuading you from becoming a business owner? Absolutely not. What I am suggesting is to get into it with open eyes an make sure you put in place the elements necessary for your success. In fact, even before you deciding to go on your own I would like to recommend that you do a trade analysis of pros and cons of owning a business and compare that with your personality and determine where the chips fall. But if and when you decide to become a business owner make sure you got the pieces in place in order to succeed. These are few elements that would recommend you take into consideration.
Scale and model of your business
As mentioned earlier you want to make sure what it is that you are getting yourself into. For example, are you thinking of becoming an independent consultant? If that is the model you want to pursue you need to make sure that the desire to have to perception of being your own boss is so strong that will overcome the following challenges. First of all as an independent consultant, the only freedom you have is your choice to decline a client, until you are starving of course. Other than that, many independent consultant end up having to do all the functions of a business, all on their own, form business development and marketing to accounting and finance to actually provide services as well as having to deal with the pain in the back to deal with numerous federal, state and local agencies. You may soon discover that you are spending so much time on these other functions that you have little time to make money enjoying what you enjoy most, i.e. your expertise. A truly prosperous and successful independent consultant needs to be able to generate enough recurring business at the right price that will enable him/her to hire some help and offload the administrative work to them. But even then you are only as free as your options to pick who do not want to work for. You are still just an overworked employee because the moment you stop working your revenue drops.
So the next level up would be to hire other people to do the work you do, may be even better than you do so you can step back, reap a profit from the income they are generating and enabling you to enjoy life a little bit.
This is an incredibly important transition but still you are at a point that you can walk away form your business. That would be the next step where you have people who can run the business entirely in your absence. You don’t have to get to this point if you enjoy where you are but this is a nice place to be.
And finally the final stage is when not only your business runs without you but you have systems in place that makes it less dependent on complex skills of your employees. Your business becomes an asset you can sell.
Since we are out of time limit for this article the next one will dive into building a systemized business that becomes a true asset and where you can go from there.