We Don’t Encourage Individuals to Form a Startup

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, skmurphy

“We are all here to do what we are all here to do.”
The Oracle in “Matrix Reloaded”

I have come to the conclusion that most entrepreneurship is involuntary. Either someone is an entrepreneur from the time they are young, which was my personal experience, or they are thrust into situations where their old career path(s) are foreclosed to them and they have to become entrepreneurial.

I have read a number of posts in the last few months about how a downturn–or now a recession–is a great time to start a company. For the most part they are written by folks who in some way make their living off of entrepreneurs, either preying upon them as investors or service providers.

We certainly provide services to bootstrapping entrepreneurs and I suppose it would be in my personal best interest to encourage more folks to start bootstrapping a startup. I don’t think for the most part it’s a reasoned decision. Successful entrepreneurs are certainly prudent in their approach to starting a new business, and disciplined in how they manage not only technology but also selling, employees, and risks.

But individuals who are motivated by making a lot of money, in particular making a lot of money in a hurry, don’t seem to have the patience and self-discipline to prosper–certainly in a downturn/recession. So I would only end up encouraging the underqualified by appealing to their greed or their desire for autonomy.

Also the people who ask “should I be doing this” more than once or a twice a quarter (the “normal rate of doubts” amongst entrepreneurs in my experience) and look for reassurance in seminars and blog posts about why now is the best time to start a company should think very hard stepping onto the entrepreneurial roller coaster. I personally wouldn’t want be anywhere else, but then that’s just me.

I don’t like to discourage entrepreneurs either. I am always energized by the opportunity to hear bootstrappers’ perspectives on their business and their markets. If you have time, please drop by a Bootstrappers Breakfast in December or January and learn some of the realities of bootstrapping firsthand from entrepreneurs who are doing it.

If you have made the decision to team up with people you trust to form a software startup, you can definitely come to us for advice (free and paid) and we can help you not only avoid problems but pursue sound strategies for establishing your firm in a market and growing it.

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Update Dec 8: Matt Maroon wrote a good post on this same topic “A Little Better Advice” which I intended to take in a follow up to this post.

Back when I was a B-list professional poker player I got a lot of inquiries from people I didn’t know asking me if they should go pro. A lot of other pros who were asked that question said no every time. And they weren’t really wrong to do so, because if you’re asking someone you don’t even know that question, no is at least 75% likely to be the correct answer.

It’s not a very helpful one though. I realized early that people aren’t really asking you if they should go pro. They’ll make their decision regardless what you tell them, and if they got far enough along in the process to start asking, the smart money was that they were going to do it in the near future. I’d bet that the majority of them did, even though almost all of them were told not to.

So instead of just giving them a flat out no, I asked them a bunch of questions. Do you have kids to support? How much do you need to make each month to make ends meet? Do you have enough saved up to break even for three months (or six if you’re playing live) and still have a bankroll left? What’s your win rate and sample size? […]

A lot of people probably ignored everything I told them anyway, just as they would had I said no (or yes for that matter, since they were going to anyway, though they’d blame me if it went badly for them). But I know I saved a few people from a lot of agony, and ended up encouraging a few who went on to have success with it. By not advising them one way or another, but rather giving them more information, I helped anyone who I could, and I at least didn’t hurt the rest.

Update Dec 12: I realize I addressed some of Matt Maroon’s concerns in “Entrepreneurs Need Gumption to Succeed.” We have 382 posts since October 2006, I will take some time to get a better index organized for cross-index and references.

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Comments (9)

  • Chris Balavessov


    Great post! I think you are doing a great service to prospective entrepreneurs out there as entrepreneurship is currently a bit oversold in my view.

    As a founder of a startup the launched just a few months ago, I have been amazed to realize that many of the skills/traits/habits that are helping me during the early stages have been formed or exhibited a very long time ago.

    So I absolutely agree with the “if you are entrepreneur, you have been since you were young”, it checks out perfectly with my experience and observation.

    Likewise, if you doubt it or need validation, entrepreneurship is probably not the right path for you.


  • SKMurphy » Francis Adanza on the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster


    […] Francis Adanza worked for us in a project management role for the better part of two years  before taking a business development role with Global West Communications. He was back in the Bay Area last week and attended last Friday’s Bootstrappers Breakfast and we had a chance to catch up. He sent me a short e-mail on his perspective on  “entrepreneurial roller coaster” afterward. It’s a topic I have blogged about in “We Don’t Encourage Individuals to Form a Startup” and “Hugh Macleod’s Thoughts on Being an Entrepreneur” but I think Francis has done a better job of explaining it and with his permission I reprint it below: The funnest yet scariest part about riding a roller coaster for the first time is the unknown knowns. You know there are going to be highs and lows, but you don’t know when they will occur. You know there will be twists, turns, even sporadic upside down thrills, but its hard to forecast them. At times the adventure seems fast, and sometimes it seems long, dragging on forever. Regardless of how scary the ride may be, we all have choices that can alter the experience. Some people keep their eyes closed the entire ride, trying to mitigate their fears. Others dare to keep their eyes open, embracing each turn of events. Some folks find reassurance and control by holding on to the safety bars. While others fly by the seat of their pants, hands waving free in the air. At times the ride becomes so frightening, you wonder why you even got on. It doesn’t matter how much you yell or scream, all you can do is wait until it ends. Although you might walk away a little shook up with a few scratches and bruises, you know in your heart that you had the guts to give it a try. […]


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