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How to Know When You Should Start a Company

Five questions you need to ask yourself before you make the leap.
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So it has come to this, eh?

Your day job is getting a little dull, the drive across town to the corporate office is a total bear, you can't seem to stop thinking about that new app. Having an idea and an incentive is one thing, but knowing when to start a company is often the hardest part. Should you wait until you have all of your debts paid off? Until you have a more reasonable mortgage? Until the kids are finally out of the home? There are many reasons to start a company. The challenge is knowing when. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

1. Are there people you know who will benefit?

I'm convinced one of the best reasons to start a company has nothing to do with market trends, or your personal motivations, or even financial gain. Starting a company might benefit people in some tangible way. Let's say you have an idea for a water filtration device that will help people in developing countries. Or maybe it is an app that will finally solve a problem for accountants. Well, why are you standing still? Some of the greatest joys you will experience in life will come from helping people, and a company makes that possible on a grand scale. It's also important to think about whether people you hire will benefit--do a lot of your friends and business associates need a job? That's another good incentive.

2. If you wait, will someone else steal the idea?

This might sound selfish at first, but waiting to start a company might not make sense if someone else swoops in and "borrows" the idea. The key is to determine why that business idea is novel and worth pursuing, which might require some market research. However, don't let the research fool you--if your gut says the idea is novel, it is worth pursuing. You'll need that motivation once you get started. Market research won't create the motivation--it has to come from a place deep inside of you and spur you on. If you embrace the idea as profound, and you race to realize the idea before anyone else, you'll have the personal incentive to keep pursuing it. It's just the fuel you'll need.

3. Is the call so great that you can't not start a business?

Some things in life can't wait--like marriage or getting a college degree or paying off debt. A few of us have an insatiable desire to start something. If you are so firm in your plans to start a company, and absolutely nothing is going to change your mind, you have the motivation you need. Do it. Get the funding, ask friends for help, design a logo. That nagging sense that you have no other option (and I don't mean because your bank account is empty or you are living on the streets) is exactly what you need to run with the idea. If the insatiable desire does not exist, you might be on a fast track to failure.

4. Is your personality a good match?

Skills are important, but they can be learned. Your DNA determines your personality. If you are someone who tends to need constant direction or who gets stuck easily on a myriad of details or who needs some assurances about success, you might be better off sticking with a normal job. Being someone who can't handle the insecurities and intangible nature of starting a company doesn't make you a bad person--it just means you are better off working for someone else. Entrepreneurship is a special kind of risk. If you are the last person in the world who would ever go bungee jumping or try that spicy marinara sauce at that new Italian eatery across town, it's possible you won't enjoy waiting for checks to come in the mail every day or depending entirely on Quickbooks to run a business.

5. Do you know how to persevere through adversity?

The final test for those who are thinking of jumping into entrepreneurship is also the most important one of all. You have to be relentless. The drive to succeed is only a part of the equation. Even more important? The drive to persist. Great companies are started by people who want to succeed, and that's important. Lasting companies are built by people who want to persevere. You'll be dealing with a ton of diversity--the brother-in-law you hired turns out to be a deadbeat, the tax program you used didn't warn you adequately about home-office deductions, the thumb drive you left at Starbucks ends up in the hands of a well-known criminal and he is now demanding a payoff. The desire to succeed won't help you through those scenarios. Only persistence and perseverance will.

Last updated: Aug 27, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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