Learn why the grass isn’t always greener—and what pulls new business owners through this rude awakening—in the Formation of an Entrepreneur, Part 2
All of us take the plunge into starting a business for personal reasons. But an inborn entrepreneurial spirit, the chance to seize an opportunity, and the desire to be independent are common motivations. It’s that last one that can be a double-edged sword and lead people into the Shiny Object Trap.
Maybe someone is fed up with their job. The bureaucracy of the corporate world is getting to them—endless meetings that accomplish nothing, administrative procedures that don’t make sense, and mandatory training that reduces the company’s liability but teaches little. Perhaps a person works for a boss who’s overbearing or incompetent—or both—and sucks the fulfillment out of a job.
Combine this type of situation with a good, money-making idea for a business and becoming an entrepreneur starts to look pretty awesome. If we strike out on our own, we’ll achieve independence and the lifestyle we dream of. We’ll finally be the boss—being able to work when and how we want while making great money.
“I’m going to become an entrepreneur! This is going to be amazing.”
Hold up, champ. Not so fast.
The startup reality check
A lot of people, including me, felt this rush of excitement and promise while diving into entrepreneurship. And these aspirations are realistic … eventually. But what a lot of new and potential entrepreneurs don’t realize is how hard the road can be to get there. Before we can fly, we have to crawl, walk, and stumble (and maybe even beg a little). And that amazing independence? Truly achieving it relies on first becoming a slave to our new company.
When I started my first business, Fit2Go, I had no idea about many of the challenges I would face. I had no experience in the food industry and really no clue what I was getting into. I thought that after I developed a website and pressed a button, the customers would roll in. But it doesn’t work that way.
We had to conduct extensive research that wound up revising (and re-revising) our target audience and core customers, woo early adopters in what was then a new industry, and figure out how to establish distribution for fresh food. Delivering over 1,000 meals to the entire Miami-Dade metro area within three hours is a logistical nightmare.
Then there were the financial challenges; the opening phase of the business cost about double what I had projected. There were also some legal, operational, and employment issues. Jumping through government hoops to get the right permits and assembling a team that I could rely on—while merely trying to survive—was not easy.
Meanwhile, all of my former colleagues at my old job kept climbing the corporate ladder and making triple or quadruple what I made in those first five years. They knew when their next paycheck was coming and precisely what it would be, while I was focused on finding ways to scale my business and figuring out how to make my profit margins work.
The bottom line, of course, was that starting a new business was hard. Life was uncertain. I experienced doubt and fear. And every day in those early years seemed to bring a new challenge that demanded intense work to solve it.
Before I scare anyone off from entrepreneurship, however, you should understand this: knowing what I know now, I’d still take that path. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.
Breaking on through to the other side—what inspires entrepreneurs to succeed
To run a successful startup, most new business owners have to wear many hats; often, all of them. We need to dig in our heels, swat down consistent challenges, and persevere through force of will.
A lot of budding entrepreneurs stumble when they encounter this struggle. They realize that being the boss isn’t the ideal they’d envisioned when they ditched the benefits and salary to achieve freedom. The real startup lifestyle is one of intense work and being chained to the company into which we’ve poured our hopes.
Some individuals give up and go back to a traditional job. Others are forced into that decision when their new companies fail, and the balance sheet shows them the door. But in my experience, a lot of people—even those who experienced a very rude awakening about the entrepreneurial lifestyle—push through and succeed. And it’s a form of the same passion and naivete that placed them in the Shiny Object Trap in the first place that gets them through the storm.
The excitement of starting a business and owning our results is a powerful thing. The opportunity to build something new, set many of the rules of the game, and yes, make a lot of money, propels new entrepreneurs to meet and defeat these challenges. We’re willing to work to achieve the lifestyle we want. The opportunity to invest time and effort in ourselves can drive productivity and engagement that’s unheard of in the corporate world.
Once we learn the ropes, assemble a great team, scale appropriately, and achieve traction in the business, life changes for the better. Those dreams of independence and living a life by design can be achieved. And in many cases, true entrepreneurs jump back into startup mode again. But this time, they’re wiser and filled with a sense of purpose that makes starting a new venture easier and more fulfilling.
Hardship makes us stronger and more appreciative
The Shiny Object Trap is a process that I’ve experienced and witnessed among many colleagues and clients. The struggle creates shared experiences that make us tougher people and better business owners. And it gives us a sense of pride, accomplishment, and perspective that helps us appreciate what we went through and how far we’ve come.
In that sense, the Shiny Object Trap might not be a trap at all. It’s just the growing pains that many entrepreneurs must experience to grow and succeed. Nevertheless, new entrepreneurs should enter the arena with open eyes and be prepared to meet these fulfilling challenges.
In the next installment of our Formation of an Entrepreneur series, we look at some of the mechanics of common new business issues, including examples of how new startups solve them.
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