I never understood what could motivate someone to leave a comfortable job to pursue entrepreneurship until I did it myself.
Before I started Gravity Media, I was the director of international business for DirecTV. My job was to drive growth for its World Direct platform, which had 65 international channels, in 18 languages.
We had really high churn, and when I visited the call centers to figure out why, I discovered that practically all the representatives were Midwestern Americans who spoke no foreign languages and didn't understand the foreign-born customer base.
When we opened a call center in Los Angeles and staffed it with representatives from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, our satisfaction rates increased quickly, and churn dropped significantly.
This gave me the idea for a new type of multicultural advertising agency--one that actually understood cultural nuances and connected brands with cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds.
I knew starting my own firm would be fraught with challenges, but I kept reminding myself that successful people rise--not in spite of--but because of difficulties.
I learned many valuable insights from my journey, as well as lessons from other renegades on quitting corporate America and starting your own business:
1. Find Your Personal Motivation
People become entrepreneurs for all kinds of reasons. Some people just want to follow their dreams, while others are enamored with the idea of being their own boss or making lots of money.
Michael Gandler, former senior vice president at IMG and founder of Major League Revenue, quit corporate life when he lost the feeling that his day-to-day efforts could affect business outcomes. For a business to succeed, he says, you must be emotionally invested in it.
I was never motivated by the allure of more money, but I wanted to help others achieve their American dream and found myself disillusioned by corporate politics. I swore there would be no place for politics in my company and that those who played games wouldn't have a job there. Finding that deep personal motivation for starting a business will carry you through tough times in a way that money can't.
2. Recognize Your Opportunity
Before you quit your job, you must research the market to be sure that your business idea is realistic and the product or service you provide fulfills a real need.
"You should always candidly examine whether someone will actually pay for your offering," says Liz Picarazzi, ex-senior marketing manager at American Express and founder of Checklist Home Services. "You may like to cook, but that doesn't mean you should open a restaurant."
3. Gather Feedback, and Mobilize Your Network
Picarazzi says you should share your business idea with anyone who will listen and take feedback seriously. You're in love with your idea, so you may not be able to give it the space it needs to grow without other opinions.
Make sure you tell everyone you know that you're preparing for a major life change. That way, friends and colleagues can start thinking about who could use your product or service and how they can help you.
"Without any history, you may need to quickly earn the trust of your clients and consumers," says Gandler.
Having a network of people willing to advocate on your behalf makes that initial hump much less daunting.
4. Consider the Impact on Your Loved Ones
It's easy to forget that changing careers will affect your family, too. Be 100 percent certain that you and your loved ones understand the implications of running a startup.
Aparna Pande, a former vice president at Disney and founder of Kidstir, knew starting a company would be a massive risk for her family, and she worried about the sacrifices they would have to make. But for Pande, the potential rewards outweighed the risks.
"Ultimately, I realized if I didn't start my own company, I would always regret it, both for myself and as a role model for my children," she says.
5. Get Ruthless With Your Personal Finances
To minimize the financial burden on your family, calculate your life costs every month, and make sure you have enough saved to survive at least six months without any income.
When launching a business, cash is king, so cancel any unnecessary expenses, such as cable TV, Netflix, or golf club memberships. These things will cost you money you don't have and ultimately distract you from your business.
6. Bet on Yourself
Pande says that the risks you take for your business should be intentional and calculated, but that at some point, you have to take a leap of faith and jump.
"You can analyze your way out of anything," says Pande. "The best way I like to think about this is, would you bet on yourself? Is the work you're doing important enough to take the risk for? This is your chance to say, 'Yes! And who's with me?' "
Finally, remember to let the difficulties you face fuel you rather than discourage you. This mindset has influenced every major decision I've ever made. In the end, it got me where I am today, and, hopefully, there are many more exciting things to come.