(Featured Guest Article by Alexander Heyne, Founder, Milk the Pigeon & Modern Health Monk)
Everywhere you turn, in INC magazine, Entrepreneur and Forbes, you read stories of young 20 somethings who sell companies for 20 million dollars, poor artists who become overnight successes, and other anecdotes that make it look like a dream come true to become an entrepreneur.
The reality though, is something very different.
Here are five harsh truths about entrepreneurship.
#1 You don’t deserve anything
For some reason, as a kid who worked hard, I figured I deserved the world. I would look at the people around me and think “I work way harder than these people, I deserve way more.”
There’s a funny thing about feeling you deserve something though. It’s a human invention. Tigers aren’t sitting around the jungle thinking “I’m starving and my pups are dying, I deserve some food, so send me it!”
No, if tigers are hungry and their pups are starving, they hunt and hunt and hunt until they catch food, or starve to death. The options and choices are quite easy. In other words, they do what it takes.
Many rookie entrepreneurs learn this quickly too – it doesn’t matter what you think you deserve, or where you want to be, the only thing that actually matters is that you put your ego aside and do whatever it takes to get the job done.
There are no guarantees.
#2 Success in school does not equal success out of school
Let’s face it. In school we’re bred to become good employees. To follow directions. To fill in the bubbles right. To pick the correct answers and think inside the box.
But once you get out of formal schooling, it’s a whole new world.
Suddenly, initiative and creativity are prized and rewarded – in fact, it’s almost backwards.
Good employees take orders, do things as you tell them (without questioning you), think inside the box, and are very good, predictable cogs in a machine.
As an entrepreneur, almost none of those things are important.
You have to be incredibly creative, hard working, a networker, a people person, a marketer, a salesman – in other words, irreplaceable. You have to wear many hats.
You have to be up for learning as many skills as you need to succeed. It’s not a walk in the park if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing or the mission you’re committed to.
It requires a totally different bucket of skills.
#3 YOUR passion doesn’t matter – but passion DOES matter
Another harsh truth – passion is incredibly important, however, it’s irrelevant to your customer. Your customer just wants something that solves their problem.
When I go into Best Buy, as a typical consumer, I could care less if you like selling me TVs. I just want a great TV for a great price. And no, I’m not a jerk – this is how virtually all customers are when they come into your shop.
‘Help meeeeeeee” they are saying. “Give me a good priceeeeeee” they demand.
So many entrepreneurs start a business because they can finally do work they are passionate about, but this sometimes backfires and becomes their overwhelming obsession.
They get so caught up in finding and living their passion that their business is slowly dying and surrendering because they forgot the only thing that actually mattered: the customer. The market. Demand.
These are all incredibly un-sexy, but I definitely put this in the top 5 reasons why new entrepreneurs fail. An overemphasis on making yourself happy, instead of the overemphasis on making the customer happy and satisfied.
Does that mean passion doesn’t matter? Hell no!
Passion is 10x more important when you work for yourself because you have to keep yourself motivated every single day. You control your income.
In a 9-5 (depending) it doesn’t matter what mood you show up in, as long as you show up, you get paid. Dozens of my corporate friends sit on Facebook half the day in their jobs and get paid.
When you’re on your own, passion is important. Just don’t forget that how much you’re passionate about solving your customers’ problems is king.
#4 Hard work doesn’t matter…. work matters
“You’ve got to want it as bad as you want to breathe.”
“Work until your eyes bleed.”
“You have to sacrifice everything you love in order to put in the hours.”
Have you heard all of these entrepreneurial pieces of advice?
Well I say they’re total bullshit.
They all give the illusion that every form of work is hard, and that only work that is hard is real work.
In my experience, whether or not the work is hard is all a matter of psychology and personal interest – going door to door 100x a day is fun for some really outgoing people who love the challenge. Another person might dread it, and the day drags on and on. Is it objectively hard work? Nope.
Hard work is really subjective. Hard is not the requirement. Work is.
No matter what you do, you have to keep showing up. You have to do the work, regardless of whether or not it’s hard. Some days it will be. Some days it won’t.
Sometimes it just takes a shift of mindset to love the work. Sometimes no matter what you do, the work sucks.
Rather than thinking you have to put yourself through hell as an entrepreneur, just remind yourself of the commandments 1-10 for being an entrepreneur:
Do the work.
#5 Be prepared to fail
Being an entrepreneur means failure. Period.
If you aren’t failing in life and work, you aren’t trying new things.
Rather than viewing failure as a stone wall which you can’t pass, view it as what it is: an experiment.
You try an experiment, you collect data. You collect data, you make new calculated moves. Rinse and repeat.
If there were ever a formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur, it would be this: run as many experiments as possible.
Let’s say to want to figure out a way to market a new invention you’ve made. It’s a robotic nanny that automatically does the dishes for you (I could use one). You know it’s useful, you just don’t know who’d buy it.
So you come up with a list of experiments and a hypothesis:
A. Rich people would like them
B. Busy people would like them
C. Executives would like them
Then you choose a specific experiment to undertake:
A. Marketing to rich people online
B. Marketing to rich people in person at trade shows
C. Marketing to rich people in person by selling B2B
D. Marketing to rich people in person by selling B2C
You do an experiment, and you collect day. Ditch what doesn’t work, go with what does.
Some of your experiments will fail. Some will succeed. But ultimately you are taking the guesswork out and getting important data for the future.
Being an entrepreneur means becoming best friends with failure.
The life of an entrepreneur
The life of an entrepreneur is not easy. But for many people they simply describe it as a “calling” – without which, they wouldn’t be happy. For many people, it’s not a choice, but an obligation. A compulsion. Destiny.
Hopefully these five truths won’t scare you away from finding your work, but will help confirm in your mind that this is indeed what you want to be doing.
Bio: Alexander runs Milk the Pigeon, a site geared towards lost 20 somethings who want to find freedom through entrepreneurship, and Modern Health Monk, a health site for people who have health problems caused by 21st century life.