Entrepreneurship: What I wish I knew

The life of an entrepreneur is an interesting one. Many from the outside looking in wonder what it’s really about, all the while those in the inside are still not quite sure. In it’s simplest form it’s defined as this by thefreedictionary.com: A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.

The act of even defining it is a bit interesting in it of itself, you could likely find dissertations just on the description, but I chose this definition specifically for it’s simplicity. To me that is important, simplicity is key to understanding.

Shark Tank

Who does not love Shark Tank?

It’s going on it’s 2nd or 3rd season, not sure, but it’s become every entrepreneurs wet dream. The shear act of getting on the show, on a national stage, and getting the opportunity to boast about your product will often render you serious return, with or without investments.

Young entrepreneurs, and investors alike, watch the show to see what is coming and what opportunities are available to them. If you’re so lucky as the partner with one of the investors your future will likely be riddled with fortunes. Their contacts and financial backing is enough to make the largest of companies a bit concerned.

As much as I love the show, I realize that it’s not the reality for most of us. Some of the products that come on the show are just funny, others are ingenious, many are simply looking for their big break and that show offers them that opportunity. What the show doesn’t show however are all the intricate details in running or setting up a business. I mean, how could they?

Things I wish I knew

Many dream about what it would be like to be your own boss. Screw the man you think, I could do this better you say, they’re ignorant buffoons you whisper. All things many of you likely think about at some point in your career. I know because I have shared those same thoughts.

I think I have an employee or two that share these sentiments too.

In 2010 I first tried my hand at entrepreneurship but the reality of it was I was more a want-trepreneur. Meaning I had not really fully committed to the idea of the business. It was a small web design and development shop, one of many that were coming online that year. I juggled it with my full-time jobs and it was a means to an end, the end being extra cash in my pocket to do nice things from time to time.

In 2011 those things changed. That dev / design shop was closed and I was invited to join a new team at Sucuri.

With Sucuri, things would be very different. We would not pursue a traditional brick-and-mortar, no, we were passionate about a completely virtualized setup. No store-front to call home, all the while setting up an international organization. We would leverage the idea of remote workers, and truly test our commitment to telecommuting. We would establish global operations with around the clock support, working through all known holidays – both those celebrated in the US and those celebrated Abroad.

Did you know that Malaysia has 42 known federal holidays?

On this journey we would really test our resolve to run a business, in the process learning things the real hard way. With no investors, advisers and / or coaches we would rely on personal insight and our closest advisor – Google Search. This is not to say that you must get investors, advisers, and / or coaches, but like we see on SharkTank, there is much value to be had with them. You can learn quickly from others mistakes, rather than forging the way making the same ones.

So, here are the things I wish I would have known before I made that decision to go full-time entrepreneur. Some will be specific to my setup and organization, some will be more general all should be things to consider though.

Business

  • The importance of proper communication…
  • The importance of roles / responsibilities…
  • The challenge with making decisions when you have more than owner, partner, manager…
  • Virtual teams are all the rave, effectively implementing and managing is a lot harder than any book will ever describe…
  • LLC, Inc-C, Inc-S… which is the right one?…
  • Social media is addictive and dangerous, don’t cave in… avoid emotional responses…
  • Hiring and Firing…
  • Unimaginable blind faith in your own success to hire people…
  • The buck stops with you, there is no one else to help off load the issues… good or bad…
  • Your team is looking and depending on you to make decisions that will ensure success…
  • Competitors are not your friends, every one is out for themselves…
  • You must learn to stay agile and evolve with the market…
  • You cannot become complacent with your product and / or service… you have to continuously improve and evolve…
  • If you are successful you will have more competitors than you ever dreamed…
  • What is an M&A process…
  • What does a term sheet look like…
  • Common versus preferred stock…why do I care?
  • Make sure every one of your managers / partners understand business concepts / terms…

Finances

  • GAAP accounting? Eek, what the heck is that…
  • Financial Statements – Balance Sheets, Income Statements, Cash Flow Statements… learn them…
  • Cash-flow versus Accrued based accounting…
  • Reconciling accounts…
  • The importance of good bookkeeping…
  • Contractors versus Employees, how do you decide? (Domestically)
  • Contractors versus Employees, how do you decide? (Internationally)
  • Foreign incorporation in states within your country?
  • What does permanent establishment mean?
  • Nexus..:(
  • Taxation.. need I say more?
    • Philosophical

      • The grass is definitely not greener on the other side…
      • Recognizing focus is important is one thing, applying that knowledge is another…
      • Every good idea really isn’t that good…
      • Having other co-founders / partners / managers is like roommates, some times you love them some times you hate them…
      • Negotiation and compromise are staples to working within a management team…
      • Mistakes will happen, it’s not the mistake itself that will define you, but how you handle that mistake…
      • Opinions, every one has one…
      • learn your strengths and weaknesses, become one with the process of self-actualization

      Personal

      • Sleepless nights are normal…
      • The pressures of family are greater than you might have imagined…
      • Lack of understanding why you work Monday – Sunday, 16 – 20 hour days – will blow peoples minds…
      • No vacation in over 24 months is pretty normal…
      • Growing addiction to fast food and junk food is par for the course…
      • Soda and other caffeine based drinks will become your friend…
      • Arguments on who is more important, work or family, will become common…
      • Missing games and family events is bound to happen…
      • The emotional strain is like anything you will ever likely feel..

      Lessons Learned

      Each one of these things are things that I have personally endured and learned over the last 24 months. Some are common sense, some appear to be, while others will likely make you cry yourself to sleep at night.

      If there was one recommendation I would give, it’s not to loose your wit. Every day will prove to be a challenge, whether is a new competitor coming into the space, employees going missing, arguments with your team and partners, or just pure exhaustion.

      A friend today wrote about the keys to his success. In it he spoke to how four little words made all the difference, but for me he hit things on the head when he describe the anatomy of ideas and execution, especially in business.

      When you first tell your friends and family about your new business, you’ll get mixed emotions, many will actually give you positive feedback all the while reserving their negative thoughts for when they’re back home with their significant others. Regardless, you’ll get feedback those early days. As those days turn into weeks, months and years, that feedback will disappear. It’ll become common place, it’ll become the grind as Chris describes it. As I wrote in the comments, the grind is a scary and lonely place. In business the end is very cloudy, and for many you might not even know what it looks like. Do you plan to sell? Do you plan to continue to grow? If you do, is success measured by number of employees? Profitability? or Gross Income?

      Each of those answers will be different depending on who you ask and what their own personal motivations are, only you can really begin to define what that really is.

      Today, with a few key strokes you can find information about any subject you might be interested in, in the same search you’ll find contradicting guidance, be mindful of your own biases. Who is to say who is really right? There will be varying degrees of opinions on the web and in person, bare that in mind when making decisions. Treat that as you would coaches and advisors, take their insight but form your own opinions and thoughts.

      What I have learned is that there are many ways to skin a cat, some more effective then others, but then that is determined by who is doing the assessment, their biases and personal experiences. Learn not to discount other’s insights, it sounds easy but exceptionally hard when that opinion differs from your own.

      What it really comes down to is your own ability to decipher information and establish your own course and experiences.