Q: Should I Be an Entrepreneur?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

How do you answer someone who asks “Should I be an entrepreneur?”

Should I Be an Entrepreneur?

Q: How do you answer someone who asks “Should I be an entrepreneur?”

A: We live a culture that is fascinated by entrepreneurship. But I do not believe that everybody should be an entrepreneur. It involves a level of risk and riding an emotional rollercoaster that’s extremely difficult. For the most part it’s only the misfits and mavericks–and I put myself in this category–who cannot fit into a “regular job” who have the motivation to persist in a startup.

I also think that it can come at the expense of other things if you are not careful: family, friends, other interests. It’s a trade off. It’s a sacrifice. It requires certain kinds of very specific skills and a perspective on the world that not everyone has. It’s a little bit like the profession of cost accounting, not everybody enjoys that level of painstaking detail and not everybody should be a cost accountant.

We look for people that have a commitment to excellence –and the willingness to experiment and tinker and act on the feedback from prospects and customers so that they continue to improve their skills and refine their offering.

I think the popularity of entrepreneurship has led to a form of tourism: I am going to add entrepreneur to my bucket list and give it a whirl. In the same way someone might say, “I have always been curious what it would be like to water ski; I should give that a try at least once.”

There is a type of entrepreneur who is committed to self-improvement but they structure their startup in a way that they retain complete control so that they cannot fail. They are actually hobbyists, they spend money on their startup but they don’t have a stopping rule. They stick with “Plan A” because they never put it to the test that would tell them it’s time to move to “Plan B.”  They do get better but they are typically funded by a day job, an understanding spouse, or a supportive relative–lacking these they have made bankruptcy their stopping rule on “Plan A” and they only change strategies when it’s clear that it’s imminent.

If you are the passenger in the entrepreneur’s race car–funding the hobby but having little ability to steer or brake–it’s reasonable that you have them outline what experiments they will try and how much time and money will substantiate that either a market exists or they need to try Plan B or get a job. If you have not had this conversation with yourself and anyone supporting you, today would be a good day to sit down and determine what evidence would convince you it’s not going to work. Write this down and put dates next to when you need to hit key milestones and revisit it at least on those dates.

The people that we see succeed as entrepreneurs are not tourists or hobbyists–they may be novices or experienced–but they realize failure is a real possibility and they plan for surviving a sequence of small failures instead of a large one that bankrupts them. Many times the people we see succeed as entrepreneurs have a track record of accomplishments that they can build on to succeed as entrepreneurs: they are in “phase 2” of their plan where “phase 1”  is a set of earlier experiences and skills that directly contribute to the product they are trying to build or the market they are targeting.

Of course there are advantages to people that are new to a market, and that have less experience. They don’t have the blinders. They question a lot of the assumptions offered by conventional wisdom and sometimes they find that things that were commonly viewed as constraints were in fact never constraints. They were just conventions that could be safely ignored. Teams that have one or two people like this to balance a few experienced people can often create surprisingly innovative offerings.

Summary: SKMurphy Take on “Should I Be An Entrepreneur?”

  • Committed to excellence and self-improvement.
  • Committed to creating value for customers.
  • Able to take prudent risks to explore and learn.
  • Have relevant domain knowledge and a track record of accomplishment that can act as a platform for your startup.
    • Ignorance  or newcomer’s eyes–in small doses–is a useful complement to domain knowledge.
  • Able to work on a team of people with complementary skills.
  • Have a history of entrepreneurship in their youth and in at least one relative.

A Thank You to Mary Sorber of Practical Insights

I am indebted to Mary Sorber of Practical Insights for her assistance in helping me to review our experiences working with entrepreneurs at SKMurphy, Inc. since 2003.

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