Past generations might find today’s vision of the American dream unrecognizable. While the American dream was once composed of white picket fences and a comfortable home in the suburbs, today “making it” looks quite different.
Many individuals would gladly sacrifice the 9-5 grind for a chance at becoming an entrepreneur, with the promise of becoming your own boss, developing a business of your own creation, and watching it grow and thrive.
Starting WordStream and witnessing it develop from a startup into a truly successful company has been a wild and rewarding experience, but there are definitely some aspects about being an entrepreneur that no one warned me about.
Startup life isn’t all sunshine and sandwiches, and it’s worth hearing the reality of the entrepreneur lifestyle before diving into the fray.
I’m here to give it to you straight friends: the gritty truth about being an entrepreneur.
Dropping Out Does Not Make You The Next Steve Jobs
Many misguided individuals believe that if they could only throw off the suffocating shackles of higher education they, too, could create the next Apple. Dropping out doesn’t make you a millionaire – ask the guy working at Taco Bell (not that there’s anything wrong with working at Taco Bell. Unless you serve the breakfast menu, in which, best of luck to you soldier).
The truth is that neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates dropped out of school to loaf around and play League of Legends all day. Steve Jobs continued to audit classes for over a year after officially dropping out (he cites a calligraphy class as his inspiration for the beloved Mac typefaces and font spacing), and Gates had been planning his future software company for some time before leaving Harvard.
They were rare exceptions – chances are you’ll be much better off finishing school before embarking on your entrepreneurial adventure.
And while we’re at it, Einstein didn’t fail math – he was an excellent student and mastered calculus by age 15. He also married his cousin and never (ever) wore socks, so maybe it’s time to stop using him as the model to base our lives around.
You Have to be Insanely Self-Motivated
To simply say that you need to be self-motived in order to become a successful entrepreneur is an understatement. You need to be the kind of person who does their taxes in January and flosses twice a day.
You’ll also need to be authentically curious about the world, with a thirst for solving problems. When you first launch a startup, you’re on your own. Eventually you may grow your team and bring great folks onboard to help, but for a while you’ll riding solo. This means you (and only you) are the marketer, the finances coordinator, the PR director, the head of customer service, etc. You will be wearing every hat under the sun.
As you can imagine, this is basically setting up shop in Stress City, USA. However, if you’re self-motivated, this can be a fun and exciting learning opportunity. Just know that you’ll be playing every instrument in the jazz ensemble, so prepare to be challenged!
You Won’t Get Rich – At Least Not Right Away
If your business starts to grow and become successful, it can feel fantastic! Suddenly you’re seeing big money roll in, and you might get dollar sign eyes. It’s tempting to go on spending sprees (because buying a Tesla makes you a superhero) and reward yourself for all of your hard work. The reality is you should be feeding and growing your business with the money it brings in – not treating your business like your personal piggy bank.
Good bootstrapping builds a long-term profitable business, so avoid self-indulgence and keep yourself on a low salary. Besides, your worn-out boots look vintage, and you can get all your daily nutrients from Ramen! (Note: you cannot get all your daily nutrients from Ramen – but you can try!)
Procrastination is a Death Sentence
In school, procrastination is a bad habit, and while it can result in some tough all-nighters with a caffeine IV drip, procrastinators still tend to do all right for themselves.
When you become your own boss, there’s no professor or manager breathing down your neck. You set your own hours and you exchange a suit and tie for sweatpants (jeans if you’re feeling classy). Your office space ranges from the Starbucks around the block to your dining room table. All this lack of structure is extremely dangerous for procrastinators, who might find themselves watching just one more Game of Thrones episode before getting back to work. Suddenly it’s 1pm, you’re ordering Chinese food, and you still haven’t brushed your teeth.
It took some solid commitment for me to start treating my business like a real business – that means keeping real work hours, establishing routines, and sticking to them. This is what allowed me expand my staff and get things rolling. No one’s going to join your team to hang around and watch Scrubs reruns. OK, some people might be interested in joining you for that, but you certainly won’t be paying them for it.
Finding Your Dream Team is Tough
Establishing your first startup is immensely exciting, and while you may feel 100% onboard, it can often be difficult to get others to share your enthusiasm. Don’t be too shocked when your friends and colleagues aren’t so keen on joining you on your magical journey into the wondrous world of startups.
I initially felt pretty discouraged when I couldn’t get friends and coworkers to sign onboard with me and my company of one. Couldn’t they see what an exciting opportunity this was? I didn’t understand why no one was willing to drop everything and join me.
It took me a while to realize that I was asking people to take a huge leap of faith. With families to support and bills to pay, many people weren’t comfortable taking such a big risk. I realized that I had to demonstrate my company’s value to people so that they’d feel more confident that our venture was at least semi-reliable.
I worked on setting and meeting goals, developing my business skills, and putting money back into my business so that I had real results to show potential team members. Once I had numbers to back up my claims, I was able to get the team together that I needed.
Your Pride Could Be Seriously Wounded
The harsh reality is that around 80% of businesses fail, which doesn’t make for great odds. What’s worse is that as an entrepreneur, your roadblocks become public knowledge as family, friends, and acquaintances continue to ask, “so how’s that company of yours going?” You can’t imagine how fun Thanksgiving is.
Accept that you may fail, but instead of wallowing, learn from your missteps. Some entrepreneurs go through several failed startups before finding their golden ticket. It requires a degree of humility to accept education and insight from your mistakes, so check your ego at the door.
Success Never Tasted So Good
Being an entrepreneur can be tough, but the rewards are tremendous. People can tell you how good it feels to see your business win and thrive, but until you see it happen, it’s hard to really comprehend the sheer joy and satisfaction.