Author: admin

I used to think that running a business would be fairly easy, provided I had a good enough idea for something that many people or some set group of people would want to pay for, and I had the ability to make the products or do the service that the business would be selling. I was wrong. Or at least the ways I’ve gone about starting a business up have been difficult and stressful, and I’ve been disappointed several times. Many of these challenges seem to be fairly common and some, even a natural part of turning an idea into a real profitable business.

Entrepreneurship involves things that aren’t your main skill or passion.

Contractors and other self-employed people are business owners. Yet on their business card or Linkedin page I would bet most don’t say “Entrepreneur” or “Business leader”.It says the industry name for people who do that kind of trade. “Carpenter”, “Electrician”, “Baker”, “Web Designer”, “Freelance Journalist” or something in that vein. From talking to other business owners, reading what they write online and my own experience, it’s clear that for many, life isn’t about maximizing profit, minimizing risk or understanding a market. For many, their goal and dream is to do a specific something, and the only way to do it and still earn a living is to be self-employed. Some are compelled by visions of products and services that they feel should exist. For others it’s all about a given career like the ones I mentioned earlier.

Of course, business leaders do have to regularly spend time understanding their market and plan how they will make a profit whilst minimizing risks. Otherwise their business could go bust, or never take off in the first place. They also have to make sure that any taxes and suppliers get paid, make sure that their customers pay them, that potential customers find out about them and get the right message, that they are inline with all regulations and regularly make sure that no changes in the world that they operate in will cause problems.

For first time business owners, this may well mean you have to learn lots on the job, while the business is small, not fully established and probably not earning as much as it will eventually. If you are starting a business up by the bootstraps, you probably have a limited budget and time for learning from expensive mistakes like marketing campaigns that don’t reach the right audience or making products that there isn’t a real market for.

Underestimating the challenge

Even if you get everything right first time, it is easy to underestimate how much time, energy and knowledge is required to do all this “business admin stuff” if you’ve never done it all before. This means that if someone starts out building a business without help or asking people how long this stuff takes, they might:

  • Underestimate how long it will take to get the business fully set up and earning
  • Overestimate how much free time and sleep they will have to recuperate each evening.
  • in the case of people starting out on their own they may overestimate how much time they will have to work on the core of the business, and potentially even have to juggle everything to avoid problems.

Your idea might not be as great and unique as you think

I’ve had a few times where an idea for a product forms naturally in my mind, and it sounds amazing. So I start to research and make a business plan, only to discover that it’s just not worth doing. Sometimes there’s already a product that does everything you were thinking of plus a load more, and it doesn’t look easy to compete with. Sometimes the expected return on investment is just too low or far away for it to work for me personally at the moment. Sometimes it’s just not a good idea, once you look into it properly.

This can mean that you have to not go through with your idea even though you’ve already got excited or told close friends and family. After a few ideas abandoned at this stage, I’ve learnt to not share my ideas with anyone, and down play my excitement for a project until it’s live. I often work secretly on projects and if asked (even by my wife or parents) I say it’s just a little training project to keep up a skill. This is quite tricky for me because I’d love to share what I’m working on with somebody, and it’s frustrating that family think I’m doing much less than I am.

That’s not all

I was hoping to cover all the reasons why starting and running a business can be hard in just one blog post, but frankly there’s too much to cover it all well in one post. So I’ll do more posts on this theme in the next few weeks, and maybe some other entrepreneurs will join in with their experiences of this they’ve found hard.

Here’s a list of challenges I’ll talk about next week:

  • Your perceived market might not actually exist
  • Your market might not be interested in your concept.
  • Profit can take a while to happen – but you’ve still got to live on something in the meantime.
  • Profit doesn’t always happen as quickly as you thought it would.

Please comment to let me know your thoughts – what have you found difficult?

Sh*t, p*ss, f*ck, c*nt, c*cks*cker, m*th*rf*cker, and t*ts… George Carlin made these words famous in 1972 during his epic tirade, “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television.” Unknown to him at the time, a father and his 15-year-old son would (allegedly) hear this routine play on the radio one afternoon and complain to the Federal Communications Commission that it was inappropriate. This eventually led to a ruling that said “indecent” language can’t be used on radio or television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Words can have a profound impact — not only on the radio and TV but also on our public profiles and resumes.

Carlin’s list inspired me to create and discuss a list of seven words equally frowned upon to use on a LinkedIn profile: stressed, lost, failed, sucked, depressed, devastated, and quit. You’ll never see these anywhere on anyone’s Linkedin profile — not even mine. I understand the idea of putting your best foot forward, but it feels like such an inaccurate representation of oneself. It feels disingenuous not to list my failures next to my successes.

What does the real story look like? My first startup: I became immensely stressed during my senior year of college when all my classmates were looking for jobs while I was pursuing a startup with no idea what I was doing and no guidance whatsoever. I became depressed after I had been locked up in a psych ward and told I was crazy, just weeks after raising the seed money for the startup. I was devastated when our experiments wouldn’t work. I sucked at pivoting and confidently adapting to adversity. I lost half of my investor’s money when we couldn’t scale up our technology. I quit after we knew it was pointless to raise additional funding for a technology that wouldn’t make it to market. I failed to transform our global energy consumption the way I had envisioned.

What about startup #2? It would appear this one was a major home run. After being in business for only 18 months, we acquired one of the fastest growing manufacturers in the commercial LED space. The reality? I felt so stressed during the acquisition that I was losing weight and friends were worried about me. I sucked at maintaining control of my company and let people I trusted take advantage of me. Just days after the deal closed, I was informed I had lost my job. I was so devastated that I ended up in the hospital twice with cardiac issues in the following weeks. I failed (again) to transform our global energy consumption the way I had envisioned. I quit trusting people. I became depressed that I hadn’t done something to prevent this mess.

And startup #3? My current venture is in the education technology space. I don’t have a full list of dirty words yet … I am certainly stressed. I’ve lost my patience. I’ve failed to generate revenue. I feel like I suck at structuring an altruistic venture that has a clear business model. At times, I’ve felt really depressed. I often feel like I’m on the brink of devastation. But I have not quit.

How many people would ever put that type of information on their resumes? I’m not claiming that I’d be willing to. It’s buried in a blog nobody reads, several paragraphs after using the word c*nt. From my perspective, all of my startups have failed because they didn’t achieve the vision I set forth in the beginning. But they certainly were successful in many rights.

People say if you don’t fail, you’re not trying hard enough. Yet nobody can talk about their failures because it is incriminating to show weakness in a world where we seek perfection, at least from a public perspective. I’ve heard a lack of failure is one of the great criticisms of the Millennial Generation. People say Millennials all got trophies and never experienced failure. Yet, at the same time, this generation is not encouraged to discuss failures. So how does anyone know how frequently failure is occurring?

All bullshit aside, the golden metric for success for an entrepreneur is: “Did I give my investors a return on their investment?” My first startup was a no. But we also completed our initial development way under budget and returned that money to our investors. The second startup is still operating but hasn’t reached a liquidity event, so success is still to be determined. As for my current one, I haven’t taken on any investors, so how can I measure success?

To raise money to pursue a startup when you’re 22, and then execute on your plan is great. To get back on the horse and launch another one is awesome. To perform an acquisition before I’m 25 is sick. Has there been failure? Yeah. I’ve lost all my money, been kicked out of a company I started, been hospitalized against my will for “manic episodes,” slept inside a tent in shitty roach-infested apartments, and more … And there’s really no setting that makes sharing these details with people acceptable (aside from performing standup comedy: flimjannery.com). I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to suffer. I have no issue with it, but it’s rough doing so in secret.

And that’s the understated problem entrepreneurs face — wherever we go, we are forced to “sell,” to show the world a positive spin. We can’t discuss our personal issues with friends, because they “don’t get it.” We can’t talk to our family, because we don’t want to worry them. We may discuss things with our significant others … but we’re equally likely to hide things purposely from them for the same reasons we do from family. Around other entrepreneurs — the ones who would “get it” — we do our best to look impressive, because these people could all be potential partners, referrals, customers, investors, etc. So where do we turn to?

See, society doesn’t encourage entrepreneurs, especially in the Millennial Generation, to talk about the challenges we face. In 2013, Inc. Magazine published an article titled “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” that discusses this, and researcher Dr. Michael Freedman and his team published a study titled “Are Entrepreneurs Touched with Fire?” The researchers found that entrepreneurs, when compared to non-entrepreneurs, are:

– Twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression,

– Six times more likely to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD,

– Three times more likely to report substance abuse, and

– Eleven times more likely to have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Keep in mind the causality isn’t determined here, so we don’t know whether people exhibiting these traits are more likely to become entrepreneurs or if being an entrepreneur causes these traits. Regardless of the cause or effect, it’s hard not to agree something is going on here.

I found myself with a problem: where can I discuss these issues with people without judgment or consequence? I found no solutions – so I created one. The solution is called Entrepreneurs Anonymous, a peer support group for entrepreneurs to discuss their challenges anonymously. My research shows there are 27 million entrepreneurs in the U.S. alone. The stats from Dr. Freedman thus suggest there are millions of people who need help. At Entrepreneurs Anonymous, that help is immediate and free. Who knows? This experiment may turn into my most successful venture yet.

Jim Flannery
Founder, Entrepreneurs Anonymous
jim@jim-flannery.com