Realities of Entrepreneurship

For centuries, people have been admiring, emulating and exalting their heroes. Today, one of the types of heroes are entrepreneurs who are wildly successful, such as Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), the late Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft). Richard Branson (Virgin), and Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX), among others.

These business titans make the calling of entrepreneurship undeniably enticing for anyone motivated enough to pursue a dream. Building up the hero worship, the media has portrayed entrepreneurship as a sort of mythical life path for those who seek to become immortals and “gods of business.”

Photo of Person Standing Across the Mountain

However, the actual reality of entrepreneurship is far different than the overnight success and rags-to-riches stories and fables that mass media portrays. Therefore, it’s essential that anyone seeking to embrace entrepreneurship understand its realities – both positive and negative. One can achieve massive wealth, power, and influence through entrepreneurship, but it all comes at a significant cost and sacrifice.

Let’s explore some of those trade-offs that must be accepted in order to succeed as an entrepreneur: 

Chaotic, fast-changing work environment vs Calm, stable, predictable corporate environment

  • When you choose to go the startup route as a career decision, you have to accept that the environment is ultra fast-paced, characterized by sudden changes, high pressure (to survive as a company), ambiguity and uncertainty. It’s in contrast to the stereotypical office environment where you come in, do your assignments at a slower pace, see changes implemented relatively slowly, and feel fairly “certain” about what is planned for tomorrow, next week or next month. It’s slower and offers less opportunity for growth, less opportunity to create wealth, and less opportunity to make a real impact.
  • Trade-off for the entrepreneur: Trades in the regimented and rigidly “boring” nature of corporate life for the freedom, excitement and creativity of your own startup. 

Wearing many “hats” to do everything in a startup vs Having a narrower, defined role in a corporate environment

  • As the founder of a startup, you will need to do a wide variety of things, ranging from hiring top talent around you to renting office space and fixing the printer to creating the website and ordering lunch for everyone at the office. You will wear many “hats” in a startup, keeping you busy at a level that can be shocking to some people in the beginning. In contrast, in the typical established company, each employee has a defined role – in essence, only wearing one “hat” as an expert. The Real Estate manager is responsible for evaluating properties for new office space. The head of Marketing works on the website. The facility manager handles fixing the printer. An admin may order lunch. Your identity is pre-defined for you by others. The corporate machine tells you what you can and can’t do. You are like a cog in a wheel.
  • Trade-off for the entrepreneur: Trades in the limitations of defined roles enslaved to the vision of the corporation for the broader experience and freedom of doing many different things tied to your vision for your company.

Sacrifice time and money working weekend and forgoing a suitable salary vs Making a “good” suitable salary in a 9-5 job

  • When you commit yourself to a startup, you will need to devote much time (late nights, early mornings, all weekends) to the startup. This can impact relationships with family, friends and significant others. It can even isolate an entrepreneur in a stage of loneliness. Most people who are not in a startup will not understand the amount of hard work, pain, effort and even tears that an entrepreneur needs to endure just to survive. Entrepreneurs also forgo a salary that in real terms is incurred as an opportunity cost. While you could be making a six-figure salary in a corporate job, you will likely only make a fraction of that or no salary at all in the early years of a startup. There are big risks involved in the entrepreneur’s journey.
  • Trade-off for the entrepreneur: Trades in a mediocre corporate career for the chance to do something inspiring, impactful and amazing.  

Moreover, it’s crucial to understand WHY one wishes to be an entrepreneur. If you desire to become an entrepreneur and start your own company simply to get rich, your “why” will likely be too weak and not sustain you through the difficult times. You will get incredibly frustrated. There are other ways to make a lot of money other than doing a startup.

Photo of Person Walking on Deserted Island

Your “why” to do a startup needs to be stronger.  Wealth may be a byproduct of starting your own company – and it’s not wrong to want to build a successful company, creating jobs, paying your bills on time and benefiting from it personally (and for your future family) as a trade-off for the sacrifices you make in time, money and energy. But you should dig deeper into your motivations, your interests, your drive to solve problems, and your passion for making a positive change in the world.

You need a “why” that will connect your mind and your heart (soul). When the money isn’t flowing into your bank account and you are faced with a myriad of challenges, what would motivate you to keep going and to keep you committed. What would motivate you, even if you weren’t making much money at all?

Just to name a few, the following are examples of what motivates successful entrepreneurs:

  • Make a positive difference in the world
  • Build something meaningful from ground up
  • Fulfill your dream to solve a problem that people care about
  • Dedicate your life to finding an answer that has eluded many people in the past
  • Shape the future to make life easier for people
  • Use all of your natural talents to reach your full potential as a leader and innovator

Becoming an entrepreneur is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes hard work – often more than you think – and patience. It stretches you, revealing your strengths and, yes, weaknesses, too, which is why you will need people around you to compensate for what you don’t necessarily do well. It will force you to work as a team, listening to people and being honest with feedback. You will need to become customer-obsessed, forward-thinking and humble enough to always be “closing” new business and new investments in your business.

Silhouette Photography of Person Standing on Green Grass in Front of Mountains during Golden Hour

If you like a challenge and you love the idea of building something great from scratch, you will have fun, get really motivated, experience the freedom that unleashes you to be your best self at work, and achieve goals that are fulfilling and long-lasting. The ups and downs of the entrepreneurial life will not take you down because you will have such determination that you will make your work count and invariably succeed one way or another.

When something is difficult – as starting and sustaining a startup company is, or learning to play classical piano, or getting your tennis serve up to 100 miles per hour – it often means it has more value when you master it. By investing in your education on how to become an effective entrepreneur (from idea and vision to execution and market traction), you are pursuing your own mastery of one of the most thrilling and challenging career paths on earth today.