We officially live in a new age of employment. Companies like Uber and Lyft, Rover and AirBnB have given rise to an exploding gig economy, while companies like Etsy and Shopify offer a resurgent category of "makers" unprecedented access to sell goods around the world with little overhead. At the same time "millennipreneurs," entrepreneurs 20 to 35 years old, continue to start new careers rather than joining established paths at a staggering pace.
In the 11 years since David Cohen and I founded Techstars, we've seen the full range of entrepreneur, from millennial to boomer, savvy business professional with years of experience to brand new founder fresh out of school, and the great thing is that no two are alike. Sure, some may have similar backgrounds or ideas for how they want to make this easier, make that better, take the friction out of this or disrupt that, but each of them comes to the program with their own unique challenges and opportunities, strengths and weaknesses.
The one thing they all have in common? They'll all make mistakes. Some minor, others fail entirely, and while failing can be one of the best things to happen to a entrepreneur--being forced to pivot has brought about some of the world's more innovative ideas and companies--there are a few common pitfalls that I see entrepreneurs making repeatedly.
Many of these mistakes have to do with founders' misconceptions about what life as an entrepreneur really entails. Starting something from scratch can be an incredible experience, in some cases with unlimited upside and lifestyle benefits every worker dreams of. However, outside of a few unicorns, these benefits usually don't come right away. In the world of entrepreneurialism, the grass isn't always greener. In fact, the grass is usually only greener because someone is taking more time, putting in more effort and thinking about a smarter way to make sure it is greener.
My advice to those getting ready to take the plunge? Accept that the top three reasons most cited as reasons to becoming an entrepreneur are total and complete myths. If you're ok with that, then maybe, just maybe you're cut out for life in the founder's seat.
Myth 1: I'm going to be rich
Sure, maybe someday, but that day may be a long way away. For now, you'll make less than you ever thought possible but you often have to bet big to win big. In my first startup, I made $30K a year, while my pears got well-paying corporate or developer jobs.
Myth 2: Being my own boss means I get to focus on things that will actually drive value
Sadly, I've found the opposite to be more true. Starting your own business means you not only have to come up with the idea itself, but it also means you have to implement the ideas, find funding to get the idea off the ground, hire people to help you execute the idea and then also deal with making sure you're venture is compliant, that you offer benefits that ensure your employees stick around, deal with the headaches that come with firing employees or dealing with other HR related issues and so on. Because you're accountable to your customers, your investors and your employees the list of newfound responsibilities can seem endless, and more often than not you'll be facing situations you aren't prepared for. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to take a late phone call with a customer, work on financial models or other things that I'd rather not do, but the business needed it.
My advice is to surround yourself with mentors and advisors that can act as a sounding board for you when you are faced with these kinds of challenges. Having outside perspective from people with varying backgrounds and experience can be a priceless tool and something that all entrepreneurs should actively cultivate. Don't be afraid to reach out for advice or for help, and even to admit that sometimes you won't have any clue what you are doing, because let's face it, you won't!
Myth 3: Making my own hours means I'll have more time for other things
Being the boss does mean making your own hours. What it also means is that you work more and work harder than anyone else. Say goodbye to the idea of work-life balance, because being an entrepreneur means work is your life. All the more reason to ensure whatever you're pursuing is something not only you are passionate about, but those in your life can support your passion as well.
I've worked for myself for going on 30 years, but I'm always on the road instead of at home with my family, late to come home, need to have quick meeting on the weekend and more.