SETsquared Blog

The flip-side of entrpreneurship

Firstly you should  read this article from the Harvard Business Review. (And watch the College Humour video they reference, it's hilarious).
I was on the phone with a good friend of mine the other day. She's the kind of person you go to when you want honest feedback, the kind that's sometimes hard to hear but ultimately shapes you into a better person. Don't get me wrong, she doesn't just tell me I'm being a douchebag all the time but occasionally, when it's necessary, she does. She wanted me to write a blog on entrepreneurship - but not the usual 'hey-look-at-me-I'm-going-to-be-so-rich-and-famous-soon', rather a more candid account of what it's actually like. So here's 5 lessons that were really hard to learn and a nod in the direction of lessons to come.
1. It's a slow process:
A reeeeally sloowwww process. You wait 2 weeks for a reply to that crucial email, the data is far more messy than you were anticipating, things break, people forget and at some point you have to catch up on sleep. Nothing happens when you were anticipating it would and all the time the hour-glass of cash is running out. You just have to take a deep breath and keep working. Then all of a sudden there will be a flurry of activity and you feel momentarily unable to keep up. That hype you had at the start has long since faded and now it's just days of effort without reward.
2. You loose good friends: 
Sometimes you make bad decisions for the right reasons. Co-founding a company is like a relationship... just without the sex. Sometimes relationships break and that is never pleasant. Loosing friends over business is not an easy lesson and hurting people is never part of the plan but it happens and you just have to make amends as best you can, keep your chin up and keep going.
3. Bootstrapping is not cool: 
Or in other words, having no money is not cool. When you're a student it's acceptable for you not to have any money. In fact being nearly broke is 'kind of cool' for  a short time. You get to tell your family that you live off ASDA smart price beans and mouldy bread and they fondly reminisce about when they were in a similar situation. And it's cool because your student loan comes in soon and then it's the Easter holidays and that means Mum's cooking again and you don't need to do your own washing. But when you graduate and all your friends have jobs and you're still living like a student, without any income, being really nice to the bank on the phone so they wont reduce your overdraft allowance and have only a vague hope that the potential client you were talking to last week will actually sign the contract... well then it's less cool.
4. Statistics say we're the 85%: 
The thing about passion is that it doesn't actually support you. Sure it'll make you get up early and keep going well into the small hours but it doesn't put money in your wallet or food on the table... or get you a table at all for that matter. Passion doesn't guarantee success and even then the statistics say that only 15% of startups will achieve success. Staring almost certain failure in the eye every day does become exhausting. A good friend of ours, Zach Verdin, has  a great story of real entrepreneurship and shows just what it takes to keep going without income for 3 years.
5. 'Successful' is what you become after a collection of mistakes: 
Ask me how Saberr is going and I'll crack a massive grin across my face and tell you it's going really well. I'll tell you all about the recent steps forward we've made and the hopes for the near future. I'll tell you this because you'll reply "wow that sounds great, I'm really pleased to hear it!" Then I'll casually change the conversation so you don't probe too hard and find out about the stupid mistakes we make on a daily basis. Like breaking our email server for over 2 weeks, like 'replying all' instead of just 'reply Sam' to a potential client with a witty remark about a mistake on their website and never hearing from them again or spending a good chunk of our budget on goods and services we didn't actually need or use... I could go on but it's making me nauseous. The point is, we mess up more often than not and learning from our mistakes is becoming repetitively annoying!
So to conclude. Starting your own company is a lot of hard work, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of debt. But we do it because there's always hope and there's definitely freedom.