(Editor’s note: Jason L. Baptiste is the CEO and co-founder of PadPressed and co-author of the OnStartups blog. This story originally appeared at that site.)
There’s always talk about a startup’s end game – whether it’s in the form of an acquisition, funding announcement, or eventual flame out. But we rarely hear about the harsh realities that entrepreneurs face. This isn’t meant to be a downbeat and negative article, but actually quite the opposite. By knowing the harsh realities that lie ahead, you can be prepared when they come about. Here are some of the oft unspoken realities I’ve noticed entrepreneurs face regularly.
Your first iteration of an idea will be wrong – Very few people get it right out of the gate – but as it turns out, this is actually a good sign. No idea survives its first interactions with its customers. This sort of failure requires you to synthesize feedback to adapt to the customer. You could be prideful, not listen to what your customers are telling you, and keep things the way they were, but that leaves you with no customers and a product you may not even use yourself. It’s okay if things change up a bit when it comes to your idea and its implementation.
Your friends and family won’t understand what you do – “You’re an entrepreneur, so that means you’re un-employed?” or “Oh that’s nice.” are some of the many reactions you will get from close friends, family members, and others over the course of starting your company. Even if you achieve milestones that are worthy of praise and denote success in the entrepreneurial world (customers, fundraising, new traffic levels, press, etc.), people still won’t get what you do.
Unless you build one of the few consumer success stories that come around every few years, things probably won’t change here. The b2b space is even more difficult to explain as most people aren’t your customer, especially if it’s a niche workflow. But just because they don’t understand it, doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong or unacceptable. I doubt most of Larry Ellison’s family understood Oracle (that database company that stores information), but things turned out pretty well for him at the end of the day.
You will make less than normal wages for a while – If you got into entrepreneurship first and foremost for the money, then you’re in the wrong business. Sure you may sell your company, but that day is probably far far away. Even if you raise a good chunk of cash, the money is better spent on hiring the best talent than paying yourself a higher wage.
There’s nothing wrong wanting to make money, but in the beginning it’s going to be rough. You will make less than most of your friends, especially the ones doing the “normal” paths of things like finance.
It’s a litmus test in its finest form, though. If you truly love what you’re doing, the capacity to have a large bank account takes a back burner to completing your mission. Sure you need some basic creature comforts, but luxury items almost seem silly as you will not have the time to truly enjoy them.
Everything takes twice as long … if it even happens – Multiply everything by two, including the things inside of your control. When things take longer, you sometimes think that you’re doing it wrong or no one really cares. In reality, everyone else has multiple deals and responsibilities on the table. By factoring this into the expectations of your startup, it makes a lot easier to prepare for launching products, closing deals, and more.
Also, be persistent and get the other party what they need as soon as possible. And realize that most deals never work out – from acquisitions down to simple business development agreements. There are always many moving parts and excitement that can fade.
That’s okay though. If you’re building your company upon a single deal, then you need to re-evaluate things. Don’t be depressed when a deal falls through. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Titles mean nothing. You will be a janitor – When you’re the CEO, chairman or co-founder of a <10 person company with a product that doesn’t have customers, titles really don’t mean much. Everyone will be doing a little bit of everything, including cleaning the toilets. Don’t try to mask the grind of being an entrepreneur with some superficial title. Instead, embrace the nitty gritty of those first days.
Business cards are nice to hand out, but they really shouldn’t say more than co-founder or something else. Maybe someone inside the company plays more of the CEO role (speaking and being the face of the company), but that doesn’t really matter in the early days. You have to be humble and you have to be willing to do whatever it takes. You don’t have a staff of 50 to throw the task on to either. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. Sure you could also try to optimize for efficiency, but that’s almost counter productive as the early days of a startup requiring doing so much, that it’s hard to just cut something out.