Starting My Own Business And 5 Entrepreneurship Myths...
That You Must Reject
Starting my own business is a dream that I'd had since I was a little boy witnessing my father run his own operation.
After I lost my father's guidance early in my teens when my parents separated, I latched onto my father's early instruction to cultivate my mind with academic pursuits.
So I piled up the academic degrees.
But my deepest desire always remained to imitate my father's example and become a business owner, starting a company from scratch just as he did.
As a professional I did the next best thing. Rather than launch an entrepreneurial venture, I kept launching intrapreneurial ventures within very large corporations in the hi-tech world.
The Intrapreneur Is Also An EntrepreneurI behaved just like an entrepreneur starting my own business, except that I started these ventures within very large organizations. This kind of behavior has a name. It is called playing the intrapreneur.
I started operations from scratch. I did it inside these huge companies of 30,000 or 70,000 even over 100,000 employees companies that are larger than cities. It was like being a small business owner in a large town.
I created products for these internal markets and launched them. For years I learned and honed all the necessary skills to starting my own business.
They ranged from planning the venture and negotiating the funding to developing the product, the branding and the support structure for the worldwide audience that would adopt them.
I've had a successful career doing this.
Along the way, however, I learned that there are a lot of myths about entrepreneurship that keep many people, especially the young, from actively seeking to launch businesses at whatever season of life that they may find themselves.
People hungry for a business venture won't start them inside big companies. They won't start them outside in the market at large. Is it courage they lack?
"Starting my own business is just not what I can do!" they seem to say, "But I'd still love to do it, except that..." and then they again give credence to certain myths that discourage them.
These myths quell initiative. It reminds me of a conversation that I once had with one of my mentors.
Starting My Own Business Before Finishing CollegeIt happened while I studied at the Peter F. Drucker School of Business. I remember taking a course on entrepreneurship.
My instructor was not an academic. He was a practitioner, a real entrepreneur, who had launched several ventures.
He was very good at using his ventures to illustrate the points that he made during lectures. I met him during my last full-time semester before graduation.
His course was the last class that I ever took before completing my scholastic program at the Claremont Graduate University.
At that time I was fast running out of money. I'd not been a single man for 10 years. I had small children, a wife to care for and I was their only provider.
For 7 years I had been trying to complete my college training just as my father had encouraged me to do as a boy.
It had been a long trail.
Sometimes I'd worked full-time while going to school part-time, and sometimes I'd worked part-time while going to school full-time year after year.
After so many years, I wanted out.
So I risked it all. I risked being unemployed for 6 months on appallingly meager savings to focus on completing my last full-time semester.
As the school year was coming to an end, however, I had failed to find employment locally because of all the time that I had spent doing school work rather than seeking for a job.
I was left with only one alternative: take a sudden consulting job that would send me out-of-state on assignment.
I had to leave for that assignment immediately while my school program had yet to conclude, and I knew there would be no way for me to complete my school assignments while on an extended business trip.
I would likely fail my graduate school program.
- Myth #1: Entrepreneurs Want Money. Period.
What I was facing in this instance is a classic entrepreneurial challenge.
A lot of people think entrepreneurs are in it solely for the money. This is untrue.
Fear of poverty or simply financial insecurity might well goad anyone to greater heights.
Although there are some who venture into business for the cash, for most people money doesn't have to the be-all and end-all.
A primary motive for me to take on my first do-or-die entrepreneurial venture at this time was a desire to serve 3 interest groups with 1 single effort:
- My family
- My employer
- My instructor
It had nothing to do with money.
In this case I was facing the need to provide for my family, secure a client for my employer and meet the demands of my professor with the limited resources I had at my disposal, namely my time and me!
Juggling these resources optimally was the key to playing the entrepreneur.
It was a basic discipline to starting my own business. And starting my own business at this stage could not be done in the conventional way. But I could still be entrepreneurial.
- Myth #2: My Gain, Your Loss.
People often refer to someone's success in business as having occurred at the expense of someone else.
What they mean, obviously, is that if an entrepreneur is winning, someone else somewhere has paid the price with a corresponding loss.
This makes it seem like there has to be a winning and a losing side in every business deal the 'zero-sum game'.
On the contrary, entrepreneurs are creative thinkers.
Rather than play for a 'zero-sum' result, we often try to work out a compromise that means everybody leaves the table satisfied.
Starting my own business would not be possible otherwise, because selfishness is self-defeating.
When I approached my college professor, for instance, I didn't do so to look for my own gain. It would have been easy to have said, "I got a job and I need to take some time off from school.
Do you think you can give me an extension on all my papers and not mind if I don't show up to class for the rest of the semester?"
But I don't like hearing no when I want to hear yes.
So I had to focus on his gain, not mine. I had to study him. What could he gain from my absence to class?
- Myth #3: The Greater The Risk, The Greater The Reward.
A lot of young entrepreneurs confuse risk with gambling and accept as gospel truth that the more you gamble the more reward there is.
They just don't realize gambling applies only in Las Vegas and the reward goes to a casino and not to the gambler.
A relationship between risk and reward is complicated and in no way reducible to a simple statement.
Risks in business are not equal to jumping off a cliff in the dark. Knowledge, experience, hard work, perseverance, wisdom all apply to risk management and risk mitigation.
For instance, I was risking losing my new found job as a consultant, if I said to my interviewer that I had to finish school before accepting the employment opportunity offered to me.
Likewise, I was risking flunking my last course in my Master's program, if I didn't show up to class because I'd accepted a job opportunity.
So how could I mitigate these risks on both fronts and deliver a reward to all involved?
Risk mitigation was a critical concept to understand in starting my own business.
Knowing that there was a greater possibility of coming to an arrangement with my entrepreneurial teacher than with a brand new employer regarding the terms of our relationship, I decided to accept the job opportunity without reservations.
My employer asked during the interview, "I see that you're finishing your Master's degree. Is this going to keep you from accepting this work assignment?" My answer: No.
But I had taken no gamble.
Rather I had eliminated the risk of losing the job offer, while considering the greater possibility of success in dealing with an entrepreneur back on campus, who understood what a win-win arrangement in real life might look like.
This relentless seeking for win-win proved indispensable many times over in starting my own business ventures later in life.
(I shudder at the thought of having to have faced the same situation but with a bureaucratic drone from another academic department with no sense for a win-win.)
- Myth #4: A Business Plan Is The Entrepreneur's Critical Roadmap To Success.
When it finally came down to speaking with my teacher I had a plan. But it didn't need to be formal to be effective. So this has more truth than most of the other myths.
A venture without a plan is indeed a venture without a backbone. But a competent plan can be made of guidelines not rigid laws.
Starting my own business ventures has made this clear to me, because some ventures require lots of planning to keep them from spiraling without direction, while others suffer from analysis paralysis due to over planning.
My instructor had a plan of his own for his class. He wanted each of his student to know what entrepreneurship tasted like. He did not believe in theoretical entrepreneurship.
He was a practitioner, as I said earlier, not a theoretician.
Success for him as a teacher meant having student come to him to show him what business they planned to start. This I had keenly noticed about him.
This is why I approached him with a proposition that I thought might work.
I asked him first, "Professor, starting my own business is very important to me and I have a business opportunity before me right now. It involves being a consultant analyzing the business process of 1 manufacturing operation and evaluating the work flow of a packing plant to discover areas of inefficiency to eliminate for them.
"Would you be interested in learning more about this to advise me on how I could exploit this opportunity as an entrepreneur?"
His answer was yes, because he saw gain as an instructor of entrepreneurship, in encouraging me to be entrepreneurial.
After thanking him, I offered a predicament to him that he alone could resolve.
"Here's my quandary, however, that I think you alone can help me with. We're here in California and the opportunities are in Nevada and Washington respectively.
"This would be no issue in itself were it not that I must present myself before these clients next week and remain with them for several weeks or lose the engagement."
His first reaction was to probe for more information: "Oh, is this a job?" he asked.
"No, it is a consulting engagement. I'm a full-time student. But the opportunity has arrived before the end of the school year," I said, "And consulting is what I'm prepared to do after graduation."
"So you risk not finishing the course if you take on this consulting engagement," he concluded.
"That is correct."
"I have an idea," he then remarked, "But let me hear you first propose something to me."
I was ready, as you always must be as an entrepreneur:
"I've given it some thought. I'd like to use this experience for starting my own business. I suggest to complete an analysis apart from the work that I'll do for these 2 firms. This analysis I can present to you couched within my research on principles of entrepreneurship from the Austrian school of economic thought."
"My thought exactly," he said, "I'd like you to do a field study.
"Write as if you're an independent consultant running your own business. I'll give you an extension to complete your case. This will fulfill your course requirement to my satisfaction."
- Myth #5: Entrepreneurs Get Rich Fast.
So I got the job, the last course credit for my Master's degree and the cash for my wife and children.
My 3 clients were satisfied. My venture was a success.
Starting my own business this way had taken a lot of effort before I saw a single penny, however.
It is true that entrepreneurs get rich. But we often measure our wealth in non-monetary terms.
Starting my own business has made me rich in knowledge and experience more than in cash.
The rise of 'dot-com millionaires' back a decade ago and online gurus today definitely makes it seem like entrepreneurs can make an amazingly quick buck in almost no time.
But you should remember nothing is as easy as it seems.
You may think that entrepreneurs get extremely rich extremely fast. But a lot of hard work goes into developing the ideas and products that produce financial riches. Meantime, time marches on.
That's not to say that it is not possible to make money quick.
But quick money making ideas must be implemented. That is what takes time.
It is therefore you and not the idea that defines what quick means.
Instead of focusing on quick riches, match your implementation method to your concept of quickness.
For me that first venture that fulfilled the needs of 3 people took 1 day to implement, though the first cash from it did not show up in my bank account until 2 weeks later.
Yet starting my own business became possible for me before then.
Starting My Own Business Began With MentorsWhat that teacher, who became my mentor in my last semester of academic schooling, told me during our conversation that night is what I've been sharing with you throughout this entire article.
What my mentor taught me was not to buy into any myths about entrepreneurship. If you want your own business, simply start it!
If I had bought into lies and half-truths, then starting my own business would have remained just a boyhood dream and not the reality that I've lived.
But my father and a professor taught me differently. Avoid the myths yourself.
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