Starting Your Own Company: Why It’s Hard and Why It’s Worth It
Life for a young entrepreneur isn’t exactly glamorous. In fact, for a young innovator with admittedly minimal practical experience, it can be downright draining. Don’t let the legends confuse you; You’re not Mark Zuckerberg, and you’re not going to stroll into a venture capital firm at age 20, wearing pajamas, and raise millions of dollars. Your age and lack of experience are strikes against you, and no matter how qualified you think you are, you’ll have to work twice as hard to convince anyone that your ideas are well-construed and even remotely legitimate.
Unfortunately, establishing your credibility isn’t the only hurdle you’ll need to clear — in all likelihood, you’ll also face fiscal challenges. So you’re fresh out of college, or graduate school, or just finished touring with your jazz band that’s just this far from making it big. Whatever your history, a simple fact rings true: most young folks don’t exactly have a ton of savings. And before you can get paid to work on a start-up, you’ll need to get it funded. And before you can get it funded, you’ll probably need to work hard to achieve some significant risk-mitigating milestones. A textbook catch-22. In my case, in our days before funding I worked 60+ hours per week on my start-up, while finding time to simultaneously do paid consulting work for three other medical device companies. At the time, perhaps my friend Dan put it best: “You have all of the stress of having a really demanding job, while at the same time having the financial stress of being unemployed.” Did I mention I was also saving for a wedding? Life was good.
Then there is the uncertainty. Oftentimes, even later stage companies have unclear paths to success. For an early start-up? Well, I kind of think of it like playing the old video game for Atari, Frogger, where you had to maneuver your green square (that remotely resembles a frog) across roads and rivers until you reached the lily pad on the other side of the screen. In both cases, you can see or envision a successful endpoint as clear as day. But, you also see all the potential hazards, and their associated catastrophic outcomes, right in front of you, and you know that you have to cross them first. And boy, do they look menacing. Certainly, not everyone is capable of sustaining the emotional roller coaster that accompanies running a start-up. But, taken one (leap) at a time, it’s conceivable that you’ll make it. (Aside: I also like the Frogger metaphor for a start-up because your path to success in each case isn’t a predetermined straight line — instead, it’s a rapidly evolving and often convoluted route).
From all this, you might think that I would discourage a young innovator from taking the risk of entering into entrepreneurship. Instead, I’ll lobby for the opposite case. Because as cliché as it might be, with great risk comes great reward—and I’m not referencing the economic kind. You have the reward of developing a technology that you helped invent, a technology that may go on to help thousands or millions of people. You have the reward of rising to new challenges and exceeding even your own expectations. You have the reward of learning how to pitch your ideas and make them resonate with strangers, along the way becoming persuasive enough to talk your way out of washing the dishes. Trust me, when you realize ‘I am in way over my head’, you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself as you successfully dig your way out. And with enough perseverance, you will dig your way out. With a little luck, you just might make it to that lily pad, after all.