It is tough founding a business

The Wall Street Journal today has a great article designed to help potential entrepreneurs figure out whether they are cut out to found their own businesses.  If that is you then the whole piece is well worth a read.  Being an entrepreneur can be a fantastically rewarding occupation both financially and at a personal level, but it is manifestly the case that not everyone is cut out for it.  Moreover, unlike most jobs, once you have founded a business and employed a few people leaving the company can be prohibitively difficult.

The article is structured around 10 questions that entrepreneurs should ask themselves and then after each one there is a brief discussion of the issues.

In the remainder of this post I’m going to bring out the single best question and the subsequent discussion and the list the remaining questions without the discussion (you can go back to the WSJ for that).

Single best question: 

Are you a self-starter?

Entrepreneurs face lots of discouragement. Potential buyers don’t return calls, business sours or you face repeated rejection. It takes willpower and an almost unwavering optimism to overcome these constant obstacles.

John Gartner, an assistant clinical-psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of the book “The Hypomaniac Edge,” theorizes that many well-known entrepreneurs have a temperament called hypomania. They’re highly creative, energetic, impatient and very persistent — traits that help them persevere even when others lose faith.

“One of the things about having this kind of confidence is they’re kind of risk-blind because they don’t think they could fail,” Prof. Gartner says. And, he adds, “if they fail, they’re not down for that long, and after a while they’re energized by a whole new idea.”

The other questions:

  • Are you willing and able to bear great financial risk? [there is a reason many entrepreneurs are already wealthy]
  • Are you willing to sacrifice your lifestyle for potentially many years?
  • Is your significant other on board?
  • Do you like all aspects of running a business?
  • Are you comfortable making decisions with no playbook?
  • What is your track record of executing ideas?
  • How persuasive and well-spoken are you?
  • Do you have a concept your passionate about?
  • Do you have a business partner?

I have seen many entrepreneurs struggle with different questions on this list and their companies have hit bumpy patches as a result.  Conversely just about every successful company I can think of has been able to cover off all of them.  Not necessarily via a single individual though – and founding teams need positive answers for these questions between them not for each person separately.

Many of these questions apply also to ‘professional CEOs’ who come into startups when they through the inital founding stage, but are still small.

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  • James Penman

    Very enjoyable post.

    In the face of all that discouragement it's astonishing how many people bend over backwards to help you.

    I'd also say that no matter how cerebral/rational a person you are, instinct's in the driving seat. Does it feel right?

  • James Penman

    Very enjoyable post.

    In the face of all that discouragement it's astonishing how many people bend over backwards to help you.

    I'd also say that no matter how cerebral/rational a person you are, instinct's in the driving seat. Does it feel right?

  • Interesting article. Having been on a long, frustrating and so far unprofitable entrepreneurial journey I can assure anyone setting out now that they need to be prepared for a hard slog that may not get them anywhere – even if they do have a great idea. And you're right, Nic, self-starting is the most important of all the entrepreneurial requirements. Every time you get a kicking (and there are lots to be had along the way) you have to get right back up and keep going with renewed enthusiasm and belief. You have to get used to rejection too, especially if you're raising capital, and to dealing with some of the rudest and most arrogant people you're ever likely to meet.

    It isn't a road for everyone. But when you know the scale of your opportunity, you know you're right about your market and you know you can deliver your idea and the success it will bring, you don't really have a choice. There is no turning back once you've made that leap of faith.

  • Interesting article. Having been on a long, frustrating and so far unprofitable entrepreneurial journey I can assure anyone setting out now that they need to be prepared for a hard slog that may not get them anywhere – even if they do have a great idea. And you're right, Nic, self-starting is the most important of all the entrepreneurial requirements. Every time you get a kicking (and there are lots to be had along the way) you have to get right back up and keep going with renewed enthusiasm and belief. You have to get used to rejection too, especially if you're raising capital, and to dealing with some of the rudest and most arrogant people you're ever likely to meet.

    It isn't a road for everyone. But when you know the scale of your opportunity, you know you're right about your market and you know you can deliver your idea and the success it will bring, you don't really have a choice. There is no turning back once you've made that leap of faith.

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