I had the chance a few months ago to speak informally with a group of young people (in their twenties and thirties) about whether they would ever consider starting their own business. They had been grousing about their dead-end jobs, asshole bosses, 9-to-5 (and sometimes two-job) boredom, and how desperately they looked forward to the weekend.
When I probed a bit about finding or creating meaningful work, most of them said that they didn’t think any ”existing” job would let them do the kind of work they really loved or were really suited to doing.
And although they liked the idea of starting their own enterprise, they were uniformly dismissive of the possibility of actually doing so, and confessed to being afraid to do so, to the point most of them said they would never even seriously consider it.
I made notes of their reasons, which I’ve dubbed “The ten fears of entrepreneurship.” Here they are, along with my explanation of why their fears are unwarranted, and how working naturally can overcome them:
- Don’t Have the Skills: “I wouldn’t know where to start. I took entrepreneurship in college, but it was all about understanding financial statements and types of loans. I’ve never even spoken to a successful entrepreneur.” This fear comes from the belief that entrepreneurs need to know it all and have it all. The Natural Enterprises I know understand that just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a “community” of diverse people with different skills to make a business work. The tragedy is that the most critical skills needed for natural work are capacities that are intuitive and inherent, not specialized skills you need to study. The greater tragedy is that our education system doesn’t help us recognize what our natural talents and capacities are. Most of us need to learn what these are ourselves.
- Don’t Have the Self-Confidence: “I’d get discouraged too early in the process. It all sounds so intimidating. You have to have nerves of steel and incredible courage to take this on. I know some entrepreneurs, and I don’t envy them.” Entrepreneurship needn’t be intimidating. It is mostly fear of the unknown, and the lingering mythology of entrepreneurship that is perpetuated, alas, because so many entrepreneurs keep making the same avoidable mistakes over and over. Working naturally, doing what you love doing and do well, is, well, natural.
- Don’t Have the Ideas: “I’m not creative enough to come up with something novel. Entrepreneurs have these great ideas, and even then it’s not always enough to make a new business work.” Perception, not conception, is the key to entrepreneurial success: Paying attention is far more important than creativity. It’s all about finding a need and filling it, not coming up with an idea, “commercializing” it, and then trying to find someone who might buy it.
- Don’t Have the Money: “If I had another ten grand, it would go to paying debts or meeting other immediate needs, not investing in a risky new business. And I’m not foolish enough to think anyone else would give me the money, either.” If you can fill an unmet need, there are several ways to finance the business organically, drawing on the interest and investment capital of suppliers, potential customers, and business partners, and people you know who are always looking for a way of getting a better return than they can get in the bank.
- The Deck’s Stacked Against Entrepreneurs: “Big corporations have all the money, the subsidies from government, the tax breaks, and the cash to intimidate, sue, or buy out any entrepreneur who challenges their dominance.” There is some truth to this, which is why the key to successful entrepreneurship is to find a need that is not immediately or obviously big enough or profitable enough to attract the attention of the dominant players in your industry. This is what Clay Christensen calls Disruptive Innovation, and entrepreneurs have the advantage of agility (and not having shareholders demanding seven-digit revenues from any new offering) that makes them more adept at doing this than large corporations. This ability to innovate, as I’ll explain in detail later, is a great equalizer.
- Couldn’t Handle the Failure: “If I tried and failed as an entrepreneur, I think I’d be crushed. I’d feel like a failure in life, it would probably affect my marriage and my friendships and my reputation, and if I came to hate my day job, I wouldn’t even be able to daydream about running my own business, because I’d have already tried that and failed.” A survey a few years ago by Inc. magazine found that only one factor correlated strongly with entrepreneurial success: A previous entrepreneurial failure. This is how you learn. If you avoid overcommitting, and learn how to “fail fast and early,” you can have the resilience to be a “serial entrepreneur.” No entrepreneur succeeds in every undertaking. Natural entrepreneurs don’t have to.
- Don’t Know the Process: “I took some MBA courses, and they didn’t teach me anything about how to start or run my own business. Where do you learn this?” This is the principal function of this book. But although the book lays out the process, applying it depends on the nature of the enterprise you are undertaking. Learning how to apply it comes from spending time with other entrepreneurs, and drawing on the experience and knowledge of your business partners, and advisors. Most people love to see new enterprises succeed, and those who can help are usually very generous with their time and counsel.
- Don’t Have the Time: “I’m working two jobs now just to make ends meet. If there were more hours in the week, I’d take a third one. How could I ever find the time to start my own business?” The biggest time-consumer in starting a successful Natural Enterprise is the up-front research. But that research can be done while you’re doing other things you’re already committed to. Social occasions, courses, shopping trips, sales calls, dinners out, even watching your kids’ after-school activities—all of these are opportunities to observe, explore, and research untapped needs that could be the basis for a successful entrepreneurial venture. Take your time, do your research well, share the workload with your entrepreneurial partners. You’ll then be so sure of success that you’ll be able to confidently make the time to bring your business idea to fruition.
- Couldn’t Handle the Stress: “The entrepreneurs I know are in hock to the bank or to demanding investors, their personal assets are at stake, their families depend on them for steady income, and a single bad debt or overrun could sink them. Life’s too short for that much stress.” Entrepreneurs who live with that much daily stress (and there are a lot of them) are, in my experience, mostly running ill-conceived businesses. I know many entrepreneurs who absolutely love their work, are beholden to no one, and are doing so well they can afford to turn away lots of business (especially from aggravating customers) because they’d rather pursue leisure activities than work long hours. If your business truly taps an unmet need, you’ll have good customers, and very little business stress.
- Couldn’t Handle the Loneliness: “The entrepreneurs I know are the loneliest people in the world. They work incredible hours and have no time for anything else. They have to learn how to do everything themselves, because they can’t afford experts and consultants.” The biggest mistake a lot of people make in starting their own business is trying to do it all themselves. One-person enterprises have the highest rate of failure, largely because no one can know every- thing you need to know, or have all the requisite skills, to succeed in business. One of the most critical decisions in creating a Natural Enterprise is finding business partners who have skills and knowledge that complement (without overlapping) your own, who have the same commitment to the idea that you do, and who you love working with. Get that right, and how could you possibly be lonely?