If entrepreneurship is so hard why do so many pursue it?


There really should be such as thing as “entrepreneurship anonymous”.

As someone who has walked the talk (“skidded out of control a few times” seems more apt as a description personally) for the last few years and lost almost everything and rebuilt it again (I’m on my 8th business, with 5 quick failures, 1 big messy one, 2 in successful progress) I often wander what is it that is so attractive about entrepreneurship to people.

The literature is there for all to read. Practically no entrepreneur makes it on the first round. The stats are horrendous. Funding is rare to those well networked and virtually non-existant to those on the fringes. The lifestyle (if one can call it such) is bewildering and almost incomprehensible save for those that actually went through it. The stress – let’s not talk about the stress. You have to deliver a product/service with almost no cash or resources to an ever more demanding clientele who is also not willing to pay a fair sustainable price to you.

Plus – lest you think “is that all?” – most entrepreneurs experience a double whammy – not only do they disappear in a vortex of complexity juggling, but they also – most probably – forfeited their income/jobs/pensions/savings to purse this insane lifestyle.

So why oh why is entrepreneurship all the rage? Why are so many taking the leap? Is it just a case of a mass outbreak of “bad at probability theory” disease? Is it that we are blinded by the “with me it will be different” illusion?

The reason, my dear friends, is actually much simpler than that.

The reason is scientifically based, namely that forfeiting a reasonably secure income to purse a passion is proven to make you a happier human being (Rolf Dobelli, the art of thinking clearly).

That’s it. When you take life by the horns — regardless of how stressful riding the bull might turn out to be – you are taking charge of your destiny. You are believing in yourself. Your victories – however insignificant to the casual observer – will feel like the everest of achievements to you. Each little step that you take, each little progress that you create, will fill your emotional batteries like no-one who gets a corporate bonus can ever experience (the reality is that people who receive bonuses will be happy for a few days and then will lapse back in the “I’m giving up my life to work for someone so that I can be happy once a year at bonus time”).

There are also smaller factors that come into play which we often discard. In his book (a must read for entrepreneurs), Rolf Dobelli researched that once of the biggest demolishers of the human spirit is actually the daily commute to work. Yes. That ‘little’ thing we do to get to and back from work which often traps us into a good 2 hours or more of wastage and stress (it is not as if one can relax while braking and accelerating constantly).

There’s another reason why entrepreneurship is also becoming so popular. Because we don’t have a choice. You see, the future of work lies not in finding employment (jobs are – for the most part – on the way out) but in selling your expertise in solving a business challenge to other businesses that need the challenge solved. In this world we are all entrepreneurs. Even large corporates employing lots of people are moving in that direction – look at the fine print of the contracts: usually it allows the company to get rid of you regardless of how much sweat you’ve put in the organisation at the touch of the turn of the economy.

So, on a personal level, what is being an entrepreneur like? I absolutely love it. I worked for corporates for some 16 years and am wearing the entrepreneurial hat for the last 9. In the process I lost a lot – cars, connection to electricity and water when I couldn’t pay the bills (I used to go to my business school to shower), sometime my reputation, my pride and for sure my ego. But what I gained beats any price I paid for this. I have gone through one of the toughest schools in the world. I stand proud because I stood up for what I believed and pursued my dreams and my passions. Every little accomplishment – regardless of how small – is something I cherish, like the person crossing the desert and finding a little glass of water. The funny thing is that even setbacks aren’t what they used to be. Now I see them as an opportunity to correct my trajectory (which is why it is so important to take small steps in entrepreneurship – small steps means easier to catch yourself from falling vs when you run at full speed). I get up each day knowing I can shape my destiny, even on those days when the economic winds are still. Those are the days for reading, for sharing, for getting in touch with fellow entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is neither a job nor description. It is an attitude that speaks volumes about you.
So if you are thinking about taking the leap, my advice? Do it. Don’t be stupid about it though. There are many paths to Rome (like I wrote in my blog “What to know before deciding to quit your job to become an entrepreneur”) and perhaps you will find a hybrid paths that allows you to not risk it all immediately.

But one day you will have to burn your ships once you land in entrepreneurship land and make the leap of faith. Just make sure you try and get the timing right so that you don’t drown in the deep end.

The best piece of advice I can give aspiring entrepreneurs? Never fall in love with your business model, but always with what business challenge you are trying to solve. Business models will change often and if you get too attached to them you’ll end up sticking to a ship that isn’t fit for the world’s oceans. If you fall in love with your destination – the business challenge you are trying to solve – then you will be far less reluctant to change ships halfway through as the winds of commerce force you to adapt.

Here’s to you, my dear actual and aspiring entrepreneurs, the explorers of the 21st century.

Because SMEs matter, dammit!

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