A few months ago I was talking to a 31-year-old entrepreneur, Aalap Shah, who is a co-founder of SoMe, a social media consulting company in Chicago. I have known him for a couple of years now, and this time he didn’t seem to be his usual chipper self.
He confessed that he was wearing himself out trying to balance the needs of his young family with those of his young business. It was so bad that he was actually thinking that maybe he should get a job. A job! I slapped him and told him to get a hold of himself. All right: no, I didn’t — but he was on the entrepreneurial window ledge, and I had to talk him down.
Before I go any further, I have to say that I do not believe in the oft-quoted mantra, “never, never, never quit.” I think there are times when you shouldquit; for example, if you finally figure out that your business is not going to work, or that it is too demanding, or that you just aren’t happy. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.
As a matter of fact, it is probably a good choice for relatively few. As it happens, I know Mr. Shah well enough to know that he is among those few. I know his talents and his track record. I also know that there have been some underlying issues wearing him down.
I recognized this for what it was, a form of battle fatigue. But after five minutes discussing what his life would be like if he were to go back to the large consulting firm where he used to work and another five minutes figuring out some things he could do to lessen his load, he seemed to relax. He knows he is too crazy to work for anyone else and just crazy enough to be a successful entrepreneur.
When I started thinking about it, I realized that I have similar conversations several times a year with entrepreneurs. Occasionally, I have these conversations with myself. I have been through many storms, have made pretty much every mistake in the book, have written a book, and have come up with four thoughts that can help entrepreneurs maintain their balance — or at least keep them from thinking about getting a job. Not that there is anything wrong with getting a job. That would be a problem only if everyone did it. The world needs entrepreneurs. So here are the things I like to tell entrepreneurs (and sometimes myself) when things aren’t going well.
You are not normal. Where you see opportunity, other people see too much competition or no market. (Sometimes they are right.) Where you see no problem signing away your life — on a lease or a bank loan — other people see only risk and danger. (Sometimes they are right.) When you chase your big deal with not much more than raw ambition and the hunger to succeed, other people may think you are in over your head. (Sometimes they are right.) Thankfully, they are often wrong.
It doesn’t help to torture yourself. For years and years, I would make mistakes — hiring the wrong person, spending money on the wrong advertising, pricing a bid wrong and either losing the bid or getting the job and losing money on it, and a hundred other things. Eventually, I would figure it out and learn something valuable from the experience. After doing this a few thousand times, I have actually become conditioned to not look back. I accept that I will continue to make mistakes and that that is O.K., as long as I do many more things right. I have forgiven myself. Forgive yourself. Move on.
It does help to maintain perspective. Nobody ever said business was easy. But it should become easier as you go along. There are no pity parties in entrepreneurship. At least there shouldn’t be. Deal with it. Fix it. Fire it. Sell it. Ignore it. Do whatever you have to do to move forward. Many people in this world have bigger problems than you and I do. Entrepreneurship is an honor and privilege of living in this country. If you have the brains and the ability and the means to start a business, you are one of the lucky minority who either make money on their own terms, or go broke trying! Hallelujah! God bless America.
Listen to that little voice in your head that says, ‘Get lost!’ I actually prefer a stronger version — when the bank jerks you around, when an employee quits without giving notice, when a prospective customer chooses someone else, when it becomes clear that the universe is not joining you on your mission. It’s generally best to keep this voice in your head, but letting it speak can relieve tension and remind you that you are in control. You can find a better bank. You can find a better employee. You can find a better customer. You are invincible. You have to be: there are people counting on you. You will not be beaten. Like Rocky when he looked up at Mickey and said, “I ain’t going down no more.” You need to have tenacity, resolve and determination. But you also have to do things right. Are you a force to be reckoned with, or a farce to be reckoned with? Don’t ask me. Ask your customers and employees, and maybe your accountant.
As for Mr. Shah, he has just landed two Fortune 500 accounts, and is actually getting home on time, at least some of the time.