Even though I'm a big proponent of becoming an entrepreneur, it is definitely not for everyone.
Unfortunately the success and lavish lifestyle of some current well-known entrepreneurs, including Richard Branson and Elon Musk, lead many who are not so well prepared to jump in with both feet, only to be shocked and severely tested by the unexpected rigors and high risk.
Thus, as an initial step in my mentoring efforts to young or older aspiring entrepreneurs alike, I always recommend ways of dipping your toes in the water, before risking all your life savings, some important personal relationships, and your own well-being for a long time to come.
Here are a few of my favorites sampling techniques that I have seen work out well over the years:
1. Take a job for a while with an early-stage startup.
There is no better way to feel the pressures and unknowns, as well as the excitement, of a startup than to work in one as an employee, and realize that the highs and lows are even greater for the founder. You will realize quickly that this environment either invigorates you or stresses you to the max.
The alternative and more predictable corporate role may suddenly seem more satisfying and financially stable to you and your family.
In my view, entrepreneur roles need to be planned carefully rather than made on the spur of the moment. In all cases, it pays to play to your strengths, and stick to business domains and skills you already know.
2. Adopt the Silicon Valley entrepreneur family model.
When I lived in Silicon Valley where "everyone" was an entrepreneur, I noticed that smart couples followed the strategy that both partners would never be in startups at the same time.
One would keep a regular job, with medical benefits and normal work hours, while the other was deep in a startup.
If both were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, they might actually switch roles every few years. They rationalize the chaos, long hours, and small paychecks from a startup in the short-term. Founders stock and stock options are worth nothing for the first few years.
The upside is the long-term potential of changing the world and becoming a billionaire.
3. Test your entrepreneur instincts through crowdfunding.
You can invest small amounts in someone else's "can't-fail" crowdfunding campaign, or support a friend, without jeopardizing your financial future.
Perhaps you will decide that the world still isn't ready for your vision of the future. You may also calibrate your own level of commitment.
By following the crowdfunding campaigns of others, you can learn much about what types of ideas and solutions are attractive to customers, and also understand some new ways to raise money in todays competitive world.
4. Attend industry and investor meetings and conferences.
You will be surprised by how much you can learn about new trends and new opportunities in your industry from expert talks and investment groups.
Contrary to popular opinion, most new ideas don't come from flashes of genius, but from industry research and existing customer feedback.
Networking with investors will tell you what they are looking for in ideas and pitches, and get you introduced to the right people before you are desperately looking for money. Ask them what ideas and entrepreneurs are on their radar today, and why. Then be one later.
5. Make yourself an active part of the entrepreneur community.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, it's helpful to get to know as many as you can, and ask them for pointers on how to start and best practices. There are many entrepreneur support groups, such as EO, so look for one in your area, and make this is your world before you step off the cliff.
In fact, this approach addresses one of the other common myths I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs - that most entrepreneurs are "self driven" introverts who don't need to deal with what other people think.
I find that building a business is more about the right people skills than solution development.
Above all else, make sure you understand the risk and the challenges ahead, as well as the positive lifestyle implications. It's definitely fun to create something from nothing, and to have more control over your own destiny, but only if it works.
As with any other career choice, it pays to educate and test yourself before committing totally. I want all my entrepreneurs to be winners.