My column in the June issue of the Entrepreneur magazine:
I’ve asked many people between the ages of 25-45 what they wanted to be when they were very young (around the time they were in school). Most of the replies were the ones that you’ve heard before. Fifty per cent of boys wanted to be ‘Pilots’. Another twenty five per cent wanted to be ‘Astronauts’. The remaining wanted to be firemen, doctors, etc. Most girls wanted to be teachers, doctors, or air hostesses when they grew up. Freaks like me wanted to be a Rock Star (singer)…!
If you take a minute to ask “why”, the answer is simple! Pilots fly planes (every boy’s favorite toy)! Astronauts operate rockets and travel to space (the ultimate dream, blown up by Star Wars and Star Trek) while Rock Stars perform on stage, make people swoon and sway and kiss their feet (the epitome of being popular).
No one I met wanted to be an “Entrepreneur” when he or she was young!
Today, almost every adult I meet – be in an aspiring final year student at an IIT or IIM, or a bored salesman in an auto parts company, or even doctors and lawyers – they all want to be Entrepreneurs!!
Heck, I am even writing this column for a magazine called ‘Entrepreneur’, as an Entrepreneur!
So, what happened to everyone? Was there an invisible neutron bomb, filled with genetically modified ‘entrepreneur particles’ that dropped on the planet and invaded our bodies and minds? Did a mass hypnotist appear and convince us all to become entrepreneurs? Was God sighted on the planet asking mankind to follow entrepreneurship?
Or is becoming an “Entrepreneur” today, a young adult fantasy just like being a Pilot or Astronaut was when I was 10 years old?
I want to use this column to differentiate the ‘fact and fiction’ of being an Entrepreneur, to highlight what it really means to be one vs. dreaming of being one.
Fiction # 1 – Being an Entrepreneur will make me rich. Very rich.
Fact # 1 – Most entrepreneurs barely manage to put food on their table and usually go bankrupt. The failure rate in startups exceeds 90% .Entrepreneurs beg, borrow, even steal (borrow from relatives is stealing) and almost never manage to repay their loans. Entrepreneurs are always so low on money, that they rarely pay themselves even a basic survival salary (leave alone what they were getting when they had a good job) and usually deplete all their bank and life savings before giving up.
Truth - Being an Entrepreneur is probably the fastest way of becoming poor – not rich!
Fiction # 2 – As an Entrepreneur, I am my own boss!
Fact # 2 - As an Entrepreneur you report to yourself, and that can be the toughest boss ever! Also, if you are funded, you will report to VCs (venture capitalists and investors), who can be the meanest bosses you ever had.
Most professionals are used to being told what to do, and then ‘do it’ to the best of their ability and skills. As assignments get bigger, more complicated and sensitive, the professional rises in her company ranks. It’s at the very top of the ladder and typically at a mid-life stage when a person becomes the CEO of a large business, becoming the boss of all bosses. But by then there is a lot of maturity on how to handle people, boards and yourself.
Most professionals get a ‘mental shock’ when they start up! There is no one to tell them what to do, how to do it and what not to do. That itself can be unnerving. Later, when investors arrive, who come with their own agendas (not necessarily in sync with your careers); reporting and pleasing them can turn out to be a nightmare!!
Truth - Being an Entrepreneur can make you an instant boss, but a boss who will break the Guinness world record of being confused!
Fiction # 3 – Let me try this venture for a while and then switch to a job if it doesn't work.
Fact # 3 – Once bitten, forever paralyzed. In my 15 years of being a digital entrepreneur, I have seen very few people blend back to professional careers after having tasted entrepreneurship. The freedom, thrill, ability to be creative, articulate, aggressive and impactful is a ‘work high’ that rarely comes easily in stuffy corporate jobs. But when mid-age entrepreneurs fail (and have lots of monthly cash flows to take care of), and are forced to go back to work for their previous company (typically), the transition is not easy.
Truth – Switching from being an employee to an entrepreneur can be easy but switching back is very difficult.
Fiction # 4 – I will sell my venture, then start another one and another one… Voila! I will become a ‘serial entrepreneur’.
Fact # 4 – Probably working in ‘television serials’ or worse, being a ‘serial purse snatcher’ is far easier than being a ‘Serial Entrepreneur’!!
Selling a startup company is like selling pizza bread to a vada pav (local street food of Mumbai that is nothing but a fried potato patty stuffed in a bun with spices sprinkled on top) stall owner. He will be intrigued and inquisitive; will even sample your bread, but not buy your wares. Only years later, when you come across an ambitious, futuristic vada pav stall owner, who has made crores of rupees and has the foresight to see that the next wave of street food will be pizzas not vada pavs, that he may offer to buy you out – but with the condition that you operate and sell pizzas from his stall!!
Most startups take years to get acquired by traditional companies who want to venture into a new space (think Disney acquiring Angry Birds); or by existing new-age companies who want fresh entrepreneurial talent and digital IP in their ventures [think Electronic Arts (EA) buying Angry Birds] but usually, all these companies insist that the entrepreneurs stay back for 3-5 years and ‘earn out’ their moneys, while easing-in the startup in the big mother ship!
Truth - Being an Entrepreneur is the best way of being locked up, behind the bars of a jail called ‘The Startup’; not being free as a bird.
Fiction # 5 – Starting up and being an Entrepreneur is cake walk!
Fact # 5 – Probably riding a bicycle to Pluto is an easier job. Almost 99% of people I know who have either switched to being an entrepreneur or are considering to, do not know the hardships and the pains involved in being one. They just don't consider facts like – people will not want to work for you; only 2 out of 100 pitches will succeed; your 2 clients will torment you; getting moneys from them will need employing the Mafia, etc!
Being an entrepreneur and starting up is like volunteering to go to Siberia and finding polar bears to perform dental surgery on. Just close your eyes and imagine the situation!
To end, I would like to refer to Tintin – the famous explorer, adventurer and just the perfect ‘boy’ hero I wanted to be when I was 10 years old. I re-examined his exploits, and it turns out that he went to the moon, traveled to the Pyramids, deep sea dived for treasures, navigated the Congo, was even involved in hunting for Emeralds, but never, ever became an Entrepreneur!
Now, I know the reason why!
Read ALL my other articles published in Entrepreneur mag HERE.
As a child I didn't know what I wanted to become, but by age of 14yrs I knew I wanted to be Entrepreneur, 2yrs later I ventured into website business with all these myths mentioned above. Life gradually busted all my myths and still busting...!
I can relate so much with your 5th point, people who aspire to become Entrepreneur do not hv the slightest idea abt the pain and struggle in this journey. But I believe it's good that they don't know abt it, once they enter the arena they eventually adapt to the pain and struggle...!
I was in the 6th grade when I ad told my mom that I wanted to start a restaurant serving sandwiches.We had a big fight yet today also just on starting up or not. The issues are a bit different not about funds, etc. but something which is too minute.Still it's been almost 13 years now, and as we all know out here at TRHS, I'm almost done with creating my dream a reality.
It's business has been in my blood, and I bet its such a drug which I can't ever leave out.
A Fact : when you fight for what you dream about and you don't give up on it you will reach your target sooner or later .
"Its not the matter of how hard you can hit, Its how hard you can get hit and still move forward" - Rocky Balboa.
So your facts are true. I support them truly, but yes one fact is that I always knew I won't ever be an employee to long since I always had my dream at the back of my mind.
Being an entrepreneur is the toughest of all jobs.needs lots of patience to win in the end, infact never ending struggle to prove yourself.
I loved the dental surgery bit. One of your best ones! :D
Best Article I have come across on breaking away all the myths around Entrepreneurship. Someone on rodinhoods had posted a long post on how he is now his own boss and glorified that as a reason to start up and I was like wait till you have to decide about 100 things yourself and you will know how having a boss is a blessing. Very well written Alok. Entrepreneurship has far more disadvantages that come right away then the advantage in terms of fame and fortune might come to you or not. To start to become your own boss or just to become rich is starting with the ladder on wrong wall.
How come you are able to give just the right examples that so matches the feeling.. the best one being the polar bear one :) Just a perfect read to think and smile :)
I am just a new guy around in this world of Entrepreneurs, and I could so connect to every word on that article. If I had known the pain earlier, maybe I would have just allowed the luxury of my job to continue... :p