I wish someone had asked me “Are you suited for entrepreneurship?”
Becoming an entrepreneur is like jumping off a mountain and trying to build an airplane on the way down. There’s no training manual. You learn through experiences. Through failures. Through doors shut in your face. Through failed ideas and ultimately, through your customers.
No matter what books you read or experts you talk to, it’s impossible to prepare for. At the end of the day, it’s about grit. It’s about mental toughness. It’s about embracing the grind and digging in.
Are you considering walking away from your career to become an entrepreneur? It’s a rewarding profession. Fun, exciting, it’s an incredible feeling to create a product or a company from scratch and see it grow and can be akin to parenthood. Except it’s more expensive and unpredictable, less instinctual and sometimes messier than changing diapers.
When I say it’s not for everyone, I’m candidly wondering nearly every day whether I’m cut out for it. The truth is, it’s not for everyone. It’s scary, stressful, full of risks, and expensive. Above all else, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. I get asked all of the time how I walked away from a lucrative, stable career as a big-firm lawyer and put everything on the line. It wasn’t an easy decision or one I took lightly. But it was the right choice for me because I know what I want and I know the value in what I am learning.
Entrepreneurship is not what I expected it would be and I’ve realized there are a few things I wish I'd known before making the transition, so I’m going to share them with you.
(1) Hustle Like Nobody’s Business
I mean, you have to be ready to work harder than you have ever worked. Including nights and weekends and vacations. You can never really clock out and turn off the work part of your life. You’re on at all hours and in the beginning, it’s all hands on deck all the time.
A friend once told me being an entrepreneur is great because it’s eighteen hours a day, but you get to choose which eighteen. He was so right. It’s great to have control over your schedule, but I caution you not to take the plunge if you’re looking for a “lifestyle” profession. Because you’ll work harder as an entrepreneur than you’ve ever worked. The difference is that it doesn’t feel like work.
Don’t get me wrong, the stress and financial predicaments are real. But, I can honestly say I have never woken up lamenting that I had to work on our company. Maybe that’s because we have a mission of empowering women I wholeheartedly believe in. Maybe it’s because I equate success with enabling more women to become empowered. Maybe it’s because I'm type A and it's all I know. It’s pretty awesome to create something, so if you aren’t having fun doing it—then find something else to do because it’s not worth the stress and expense!
(2) Think Big; Implement Smal
From big-time pitches and mission statements to handing out one protein bar at a time, you have to be a task rabbit as well as a visionary. Being an entrepreneur requires a mix of long-term strategic thinking and short-term task implementation. You’ve got to be able to see the big picture and know what you are working toward. This requires large-scale thinking and development of your goals.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Most startups are nimble in the beginning, so you’ll need to be the one to implement the tasks. If you are someone who only wants to be the big picture thinker, you won’t get very far or you’ll burn through cash too fast from hiring people to implement.
On the other hand, if you are someone who works solely off a task list and struggles thinking big picture, you might get lost in the shuffle of the daily grind. There’s simply too much to do and it’s impossible to get all of it done. You have to prioritize and spend time on the action items that will help you achieve the goals you’ve set. It's been my experience that people are typically one way or the other. It’s tough to find both, but it’s necessary with a start-up.
(3) Dole Out a Lot of Cash and Then Some More Cash
You’re going to need capital, so you'll either need investors, loans, or a large expendable savings account. The reality is, it’s going to take more money than you think it will. Yes, you can get a loan, but it probably won’t be large enough if you’re starting out since you'll have a new company with no credit or track record.
Figuring out a budget can be impossible when you’re just getting started because you have no idea how much things will cost or when, if, and what you will get paid. If you don't go through this financial exercise, your startup will become a black hole and you’ll wake up one day with no money in your account and all credit cards maxed. Adhere to the lean startup and go in informed.
When you estimate how much you will think it will cost to launch a company or a product, double it. Maybe triple it. Your capital needs will vary depending on your industry, on whether or not you want to build a brand, and on a variety of other factors, but talking to experts in your field about their startup costs can give you a better idea of what you will need.
There’s never enough money and in the first couple of years, cash flow is tough so it’s wise to have access to some reserve capital for a variety of reasons: growing too fast, having to scale up, seasonality of business and keeping a rainy-day fund. It’s also wise to have a “sunny day fund,” so if Taylor Swift calls and wants to promote your product you’ll be able to make it happen.
(4) It’s All About Relationships
I can’t emphasize enough the value of a good network.
You’ve got to put in the work and build out your network. I’m not talking about just going to conferences or events. You need to put in the legwork, help people where you can and develop strong personal relationships. You have to give without want. As a good friend says, good will is like a boomerang...it will come back at you. But the first step is throwing it out there.
My personal opinion is you'll have much more of a battle if you are truly introverted and have a hard time developing relationships. That said, plenty of people that have been labeled, right or wrong, as introverts, run some of the largest companies in the world, but it seems like most of the people I meet who are largely successful are outgoing, friendly and have a vast network.
(5) You Can’t Survive Without Tough Skin and Mental Fortitude
Being an entrepreneur will test you in ways you’ve never been tested, and you’ve got to have tough enough skin to survive. Things will go wrong and people will try to pull you down.
Some people do not respond well to challenges and obstacles. I have friends who have turned to alcohol and drugs and others who are at the top but are incredibly depressed given the stresses and responsibilities that come with owning a business and trying to grow it.
Stress is unavoidable.
You have to be able handle it. That doesn’t mean I’ve mastered this. I’ve had moments where I had to walk out of the office to keep my composure and to avoid hyperventilating. There’s a lot at stake, both financially and professionally. And it’s an emotional rollercoaster. You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches, and not everyone is built for it.
It’s probably the “recovering” lawyer in me, or my personality type, but I like to prepare, so I'll know what to expect. Every business and situation is unique. But if you're more aware of what it takes at the onset, you'll be better prepared, and as a result, more successful.
Keep digging, ladies.