I was out last night and got talking to a mate of a mate (Ben) who in the past year had just started a small business. I love chatting to people in the start up phase of companies as there is often a kindred entrepreneurial spirit that is shared through the conversation.
The conversation was quite fascinating as we shared our stories and experiences of the first year or two.
Ben’s business couldn’t be more different than mine. He sells products in an industrial setting. He’d had previous experience in the industry and most of the challenges he’s face have revolved around getting good products, supply chains, getting payments from customers, warehousing etc. He needed significant capital to get up and running and has considerable ongoing overheads that need to be covered from month to month. The potential returns on his investment of time and capital are quite large and his prospects are good – however there are real risks and some big players in his field who could make life difficult for him.
My Business on the other hand had a very different story in terms of my challenges. They revolved more around issues of technology, relationships, profile, publicity, managing incoming money from a variety of currencies, avoiding burnout, recruiting others etc. My own overheads were considerably lower than Ben’s with the major ‘expense’ being my own time. Again the potential return on this investment of time is significant and I feel the prospects are good but in many ways the progress has been a lot slower for Ben (although I suspect he’s about to hit a growth spurt where as I’ve just had one).
It was interesting to compare the differences between our experiences. There were numerous times when we both shook our heads and said words to the effect of ‘if only it was like that for me’ and there were other times where we laughed at how easy we had certain things that the other didn’t have.
Perhaps even more interesting to me than our differences were the similarities.
One would think that being in such different industries that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of these – but in fact there were actually many. Some of the similarities in our entrepreneurial journeys so far included:
- Emotional Roller Coaster – We both spoke of times of elation, lots of fear and uncertainty and times of real disappointment and even depression.
- Loneliness – Being a solo entrepreneur is something I enjoy so much. I’m an introvert and need time alone to energize myself – but there have been real periods of feeling isolated and alone. Interacting with people online helps with this – but there is no substitute for a real chat.
- Freedom/Flexibility – Working for yourself brings with it some wonderful positives including the freedom not to have to answer to anyone and the ability to set your own course (and work hours). While there are many responsibilities that you feel squarely upon your own shoulders the freedom and ability to change course quickly is a great thing after working in environments that are very established.
- Logistical Challenges – The administrative tasks that any small business in start up faces are almost enough to kill the passion and excitement at times. Setting up companies, a financial structure, working out tax etc are all something we both went through periods of struggle around.
- Relational Challenges – I can’t think of a business that wouldn’t have some sort of relational challenge. Whether it be with staff, partners, suppliers, co-workers, customers, family/housemates or competitors – relationships need to be managed. Business would be a breeze without the people!
- Scalability – Starting a solo business that grows brings the inevitable challenge of how to sustain the growth in a life giving way. This brings up many challenges from those of a financial matter, to staffing, to time management. My mind goes to some of the stories and lessons in The E-Myth (aff link) which address some of this.
- Workaholism – Talk to most start up owners and you see a glazed look in their eyes that is the direct result of the combination of lack of sleep, too many hours in front of a screen and the inability to get your mind off the job. I often talk about the hard work aspect of my business in a way that makes it seem like a drag (and sometimes it is) but mixed in with this is also the addictive nature of starting up something that you actually love. There’s a book been doing the rounds in the past few months here in Australia (and probably elsewhere) called ‘Work is Better than Sex’ which talks about this. While ‘work’ is sometimes talked about in negative terms I find I’m coming across an increasing number of people who actually get great pleasure from their work. Balance is needed but work isn’t all bad (or am I deluding myself).
I’m sure there would have been many more similarities that Ben and I would have discovered had the conversation continued. I enjoyed it thoroughly and thought it might be an interesting one to continue here. Feel free to share your own experiences an insights in comments.