In today's world, the idea of becoming an entrepreneur is as tantalizing as the idea of becoming a rock star or a professional basketball player. It seems perfect, this idea of creating your own schedule, working from your laptop, being able to travel the world, wake up when you want, and even have people work for you--and you're the boss.
Let me tell you something: being an entrepreneur is far from what you see in your Instagram feed.
This was a big discussion point between me and Nathan D. Harris, a fellow Millennial entrepreneur and founder of Ease, a platform that helps connect freelancers with projects and serves as a coinciding project management system. We were talking about our respective hustles, and how different the entrepreneurship game turns out to be once you step inside it.
One of the best business books I've ever read is What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School, which is what my conversation with Harris reminded me of. Any time I talk with another entrepreneur, especially a Millennial entrepreneur like myself, I find that we can all relate to the same feelings. We all go into it wide-eyed and hungry for success, and we're all immediately humbled by the journey.
If you're thinking about starting your own company, then here are the 5 things Harris and I came up with that you should know from the beginning:
1. Chase the passion, not the paycheck.
It's so cliche, but let me tell you something: you will not endure the challenges that await you if what you're going after is money. As Steve Jobs said in an interview many years ago, "People say you have to have a lot of passion for what you're doing, and it's true. And the reason is, because it's so hard that if you don't, any rational person would give up."
That's the truth.
Harris added, "People start companies every day because they see the financial opportunity or a perceived market fit--when really they should be focusing on what they are passionate about that can add value to others."
The analogy he used (and I can relate to this all too well) is this feeling of waking up every day like a kid on Christmas morning. When you're chasing what you're passionate about, you will have the endurance to survive the long nights and the big hurdles. But if you're just chasing a bigger paycheck, that first big mountain is going to seem insurmountable--and you're going to give up.
2. It's not about being pretty. It's about being effective.
Your logo, your branding, the name of your company, all of it means nothing if you don't have a functioning business. You could have the prettiest, most glossy and shiny looking "company" in the world, but if you aren't actually doing anything of value, then nobody is going to care.
"New entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in creating beautiful pitch decks around business ideas that haven't even been tested. They spend hours and hours brainstorming the perfect name for their company, when they don't even know what they are selling yet," said Harris.
The example I always share with people when it comes to the importance of your company's name is Lil Wayne. Lil Wayne was one of the greatest rappers of all time. Between 2004 and 2009 you couldn't go anywhere without hearing his voice on a song. He had one of the most rap successful albums of all time: Tha Carter III. And yet, his name is Lil Wayne.
It's not about what you call yourself. It's about the skills and value you bring to the table.
3. People want to know what your company does--and then they want to know about you, the founder.
I have been advocating for personal branding for so long, and I finally feel like we're getting to a place where people are beginning to understand why it's so important. You have to remember, no matter how great your company is, or your value offering is, people buy from people. They want to know about you, the founder. They want to know how you came up with the idea, how you learned what you know, why they should listen to you and not someone else. Honestly, this goes back to why it's so important to chase your passion and not a bigger paycheck. When it comes to building your personal brand, you have to base it around what you're passionate about, otherwise you'll never genuinely connect with people.
A personal brand puts you, the founder, at the forefront. It's your way of saying, "I am the most knowledgeable person in this space, and the company I built solves an issue that I know personally."
"A personal brand is so key, and in many ways has become a must-have for company founders. People like to hear from the owner and connect with them. It shows approachability and separates you from other people who aren't disciplined enough to do it. That's really what a personal brand shows, is that you take the time to connect with people through your content," said Harris.
Gary Vaynerchuk was a pioneer in showing the value of a CEO having an extremely well-known popular personal brand. And I still think, in many ways, people think, "Oh, that's just him."
I promise you, more and more CEOs are going to hop on board soon, and they're not going to build their personal brand because it's "fun," but because it's an essential part of business.
4. Failure isn't the enemy. Fear is.
Yet another business cliche, but let me reframe it for you:
When you're an entrepreneur, the question isn't, "How can I plan everything perfectly so that I don't run into any challenges?" Business never goes as planned-ever. Instead, the question you should be asking yourself is, "How can I best prepare myself to handle whatever obstacles present themselves?"
It's not about sitting down and coming up with the answer. It's about trusting yourself enough to figure it out as you go along.
Harris added, "You can't stop when the going gets tough. You just have to find a different way of getting to wherever it is you want to go. Thomas Edison said, 'I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.' So, find your 10,000 ways and on try number 10,001, you will succeed. This is something very few people do, never realizing they were 1 failure away from success."
5. You don't need motivation. You need more hours of experience.
This is probably the hardest but most telling lesson for every entrepreneur.
Building something of value takes time. It is a test of patience and persistence much more than anything else. And so many entrepreneurs I watch from afar preach "business motivation," as if that's all someone needs to hear: they just need to be motivated, just one more time.
That's not what you need--and that's not what's going to carry you through once you're in the game.
What you need are more hours under your belt. You need to sit through a few cold nights, you need to feel the wind of a few harsh storms. If you notice, every great entrepreneur shares a few fundamental qualities, and one of those qualities is the capacity for patience. When something goes wrong, they don't shudder, they don't falter. They just nod their head and say, "Let's figure it out." You don't get that way by reading motivational quotes on Instagram. You get that way by having sailed your ship through some treacherous waters, and made it through to the other side.
"To really become an entrepreneur, you have to embrace the challenges in front of you on a daily basis--and sustain that mindset for a long, long period of time. You have to find the beauty in the journey, and step beyond just dreaming," said Harris.
I think it's really, really important for entrepreneurs--accomplished ones, all the way down to the new and improving--to be more vocal about what entrepreneurship is actually like. As a new entrepreneur myself and founder of a ghostwriting agency called Digital Press, I can tell you first hand that all those motivational quotes you see on Instagram appear laughable when you actually step into the day-to-day of real entrepreneurship.
Things get very real, very quickly.