Finding Your Calling
You learn to Recognize, ArticulateandCapitalize on
Your Passions and Strengths
One day you finally knew what you had to
do, and began
--Mary Oliver, The Journey
When Tom Scott and Tom First launched Nantucket Allserve in 1988,
they had no great plans to build a world-class beverage company
that many people recognize today as Nantucket Nectars. The two had
both recently graduated from nearby Brown University, and they just
wanted to run their own business. This urge, of course, was synonymous
with a desire to run their own lives. Tom First always considered
himself a staircase person. When confronted with the
choice between an elevator and a staircase, I will always
take the stairs over the elevator, he says, because
the elevator will stop anywhereand on the stairs I can control
my own destiny.
And so the two formed the company to avoid having someone else
tell them where to get off, as it were. In their early days they
ran a boat business, hustling for any work they could find. They
towed and fixed boats, hauled fish, and delivered everything from
bread to newspapers to the fishermen in Nantucket Harbor. The two
set up a shanty for fishermen to open their scallops; they helped
people wrap their boats for the winter. And then, during a slow
stretch in the winter of 1989, Tom First made a peach juice concoction
at a dinner party that everybody liked. And right away the two said,
Lets sell this off the boat next summer. Well
call it Nantucket Nectars. And from that spark they grew a
company that today does more than $50 million in annual business,
and is a model of spirited management.
Mary Baechler hadnt intended to build a $10 million company
with more than 100 employees when she first started selling baby
strollers. She just wanted to save a little time. In 1984 she and
her husband Phil, new parents at the time, were having trouble finding
time to jog. So Phil cobbled together a device that let him combine
his daily run with time with their new child. When people began
asking where they could buy one of these strollers, the two would
build one in their garage and sell it to the customer. Thus was
born the Baby Jogger, Inc. Today the Yakima, Washington, company
has diversified into crib liners and other baby gear. And Mary,
who remains head of the company, has learned a great deal about
business through a venture that in its early years was conducted
at their kitchen table. Yet she credits the emergence of the thriving
and complex enterprise to the simple impulse to combine her time
for jogging and being with her children.
Finally, consider Amy Miller. While studying to become a doctor
at Tufts University outside of Boston, Miller started scooping ice
cream at a local ice cream store named Steves. At the time
the store enjoyed the celebrity of being an early boutique
ice creamery, offering high-premium sweets in a funky setting that
drew crowds that formed lines literally around the block. The more
Miller scooped, the more she fell in love with the business. And
the more she discovered that shed rather spend time tending
to individual stomachs than to curing colds. Over time Miller learned
the ins and outs of the business and in 1984 launched Amys
Ice Cream in Austin, Texas. Today the company has eleven stores
and does more than $3.5 million in annual sales.
Three different successful businesses--three different paths to
success. None of these successful company builders were seasoned
or experienced when they launched their nascent ventures. In fact,
none of them had any practical experience about running a company.
Rather, they were fueled by a passion for what they produced, and
by a restless urge to control their own destinies. Though each brought
different strengths and knowledge to their enterprise, they all
grew their company at a pace comparable to their own personal development
of skills. For each of them, as it will be for you, the simple process
of running their company taught them what they needed to know. You
can learn all you like from courses and books, but the act of running
your company will always be the greatest source of growth and learning
for you. Its similar to the difference between reading about
a foreign country through guidebooks and movies and actually traveling
there. Proficiency comes through practice, and business will teach
you what you need to know.
The experience of these three people, and of many more entrepreneurs,
reveals a truism about business start-ups that flies in the face
of most dreamy legends about perfect jobs and dream companies. Even
though many small business owners report a sense of control and
happiness with their companies, they arent all working on
fantasy businesses based on childhood dreams or abstract ideals.
Many of them found the right business through the process
of being in business. This is not to say that they arent basing
their businesses on something they care about deeply. The two Toms
couldnt be more passionate about making juice; to hear them
talk about a new design for a bottle is not unlike a Formula One
Race car driver praising his or her car. Although your passion for
what you produce should be at the heart of your business, it might
not be the sole factor in determining what kind of business you
should start. There are other critical factors. Now is the time
to look at what they may be.
This chapter will teach you to listen to your own dreams and passions,
link them to skills you have, identify your resources and opportunities,
set personal goals and a mission, and then determine the most likely
business that arises from this gumbo.
But before you start borrowing money and building storefronts
in the air, its a good idea to be sure that you really want
to embark on this journey. Before we analyze your individual venture,
you must ask one fundamental question. Do you really want to start
your own business? Launching a business is a massively time- and
soul-consuming project with the potential to destroy your personal
life, cripple your self-confidence, obliterate your personal (and
family) resources, and pretty much leave you with nothing to show
for it. Its wise to think long and hard about whether you
really want to embark on this journey. (See the sidebar Should
You Keep Your Day Job?")
Personally, I dont believe that theres one easy-to-define
entrepreneurial type. Rather, anybody with commitment
and the right mindset can master the skills and take the actions
that make one an entrepreneur. As Peter Drucker puts it, Everyone
who can face up to decision making can learn to be an entrepreneur
and to behave entrepreneurially. Entrepreneurship, then, is behavior
rather than personality trait.
Which is not to say that starting a company is for everybody. There
are many considerations to take into account when considering whether
to launch a business at all. First, you should match up whether
you are at some fundamental level a good fit with starting a company.
Try looking back over your life, for example, and asking whether
you have acted entrepreneurially beforein anything from finding
or creating a market for funky earrings to creating something you
wanted but couldnt find elsewhere. For a quick check on how
you might be tested with your endeavor, see the sidebar Who
Wants to Be an Entrepreneur?
Launching a business is not as risky as you might imagine.
Theres a huge distinction between risk, which can be characterized
as the possibility of loss, and uncertainty, which refers
to the lack of knowing what lies in your short- and near-term future.
In many ways, launching a business is less risky than sticking it
out at an uncertain job in todays fast economy. Just look
at the continued layoffs from established companies, which even
in the best of times are striving for ways to streamline staff in
the name of efficiency.
Moreover, start-ups are more resilient than most people think.
Research done by economists at the Small Business Administration
(SBA) shows that more than half of all businesses last for more
than two years, while another half of that number lasts for four
years. The actual stories behind these statistics reveal ahealthier
scenario than these numbers indicate. These statistics include the
large number of businesses that are sold, or whose owners retire,
or close shop for greater opportunities. Granted, certain industries
are more failure-prone than others. But dont forget: You arent
starting a statistical probability. Youre starting your own
As opposed to risk, start-ups do introduce a highly revved-up uncertainty
to your life. You will have to learn to get better at answering
questions and get better at figuring out what the salient questions
in your business life are. Youll have no guarantee of steady
income, professional validation, or the simple psychic comfort that
comes with having an established job. You may not know where your
next round of capital will come from, or how you will produce the
next generation of your product, or whom you will be working with
tomorrow, or next month. And you may just not know how youll
solve some pressing problemslife will come to resemble my
favorite exchange from Shakespeare in Love, where Henslowe
assures Fennyman that, Strangely enough it all turns out well.
When asked how, he replies, I dont know. Its a
Just remember that you will be making a conscious decision to integrate
your personal and work life with your company. This decision brings
both pros and cons. On the plus side, you have more control over
your own destinyand realize a more immediate link between
your behavior and the success of your business. You enjoy greater
ownership, both literal and psychological, over your work. You increase
your opportunity for wealth. You have the chance to truly design
the job you want, and to create a product or service you deeply
believe in. You pursue knowledge and increase your expertise on
an ongoing basis. You satisfy people.
Of course most of these conditions bring with them a dark side.
Owning the company, for example, often results in just the oppositefeeling
completely possessed in life by a time- and energy-sucking enterprise
that leaves you with no other life whatsoever. Moreover, launching
a company often deprives you of all those lovely perks and benefits
that are second nature to established companies. (Are you prepared
to fix your copier when it breaks down and do your own FICA paperwork?)
Starting a company means abandoning all the fixed structures and
the order they bring into your life. Finally, starting a company
can be an invitation to lonelinessnot merely because you give
up the water cooler and other huddles of friendly support, but because
you will be constantly asking strangers to validate your endeavor,
and only sometimes succeeding.
For these reasons, and many others, launching a business just isnt
right for everybody. Theres nothing dishonorable about working
for others, nor is there any shame in honestly assessing the toll
that running a business takesand deciding against it. Consider
the choices made by Jim Collins. This former Stanford Business School
professor had the opportunity to build a lucrative consulting company
based on the success of his book Built to Last. After the
books 1994 publication, Collins could have earned significant
money consulting, training, and going on the lecture tour. Yet he
chose to follow the precepts he laid out in his book. And so he
defined his own mission and values, and chose his life accordingly.
This meant being an educator above all else, which forced him to
make a few key decisions.
First off, Collins decided not to hire anybody full-time. If
you start hiring people full-time and building a firm you build
in fixed overhead, which means that youll have to sell something
to support it," he says. And Collins couldnt do this
and remain aligned with his personal goals. I dont sell
and I have no interest in selling, he says. While he does
see some clients and gives an occasional lecture, he has set ground
rules for himself. He limits all clients to a maximum of three days
per year. He limits his consulting or teaching activities to less
than 25 percent of his time. And he devotes at least 50 percent
of his time to the creative work that is at the heart of his books.
The tradeoffs for him have been to forgo greater financial gain
for a better realization of what he values most. If I were
to start a Built to Last consulting company I would have made five
to twenty times what I made over the past five years, he said
recently. Instead I am my own self-endowed chair.
Collins understands that building a business calls for a massive
commitment in terms of time, resources, and attention. Dont
kid yourselfstarting a business is a huge leap, and its
critical that you be clear about the demands that starting a business
imposes on your life and on those around you.
What is a business?
Lets start by defining just what a business is and does.
There are several ways to think about a business. You could define
a business as the various activities and processes that you conduct
in order to produce a bottom-line profit. This definition is perfectly
for an accountant or a professor. Yet the point
of this book is to help you see an equally valid definition of a
business that tilts this equation. You should also consider a business
to be all those financial considerations that enable you to produce
something you care about. Is your business the first, or second,
type of entity?
This, of course, is a trick question. You must think about your
business as both.
At its very core, a business is an organized entity that provides
goods or services to customers in exchange for money, or some other
form of currency. Ideally, eventually, and finally, consistently,
it does so for a profit. Thats because businesses add
value, through sweat or smarts or processes, or scarcity, in
ways that customers cant or wont do on their own.
The range of value-adding activities is vast. You might apply your
sweat and muscles to turn a pile of bricks into a sidewalk, or a
mass of construction materials into a new room. You might use your
thinking hat to ease someone elses technical confusion. You
might have a knack for turning scraps of cloth into clothing or
quilts. You could be a natural matchmaker between companies and
executives seeking jobs. The possibilities are as unlimited as the
number of stars in the sky.
Regardless of how you add value, the word exchange forms
a critical part of this definition. Businesses always exist in relationship
to a web of customers, employees, partners, vendors, and other community
members. Businesses by definition exchange and relate to a wide
skein of people and organizations. Well explore the notion
of customers, and selling, and meeting needs throughout this book.
But it is critical that you understand the importance of your business
as an entity that conducts social intercourse with other people
and organizations. At this very early stage in your business, even
though you are determining what it is you have to sell, be sure
to hone your listening skills. One identifiable trait of most superb
entrepreneurs is their ability to read other people.
As you begin to conceive of your own individual business, its
important to think through how you will add value for your customers.
Every business structure and type carries advantages and disadvantages.
Companies with low barriers to entry (meaning that they are very
easy to start), for example, are often great starter companies for
novice beginners. Endeavors like cleaning houses, swapping collectibles,
or consulting on something you know about all require few resources
beyond what you have. This means you can get started easily and
hopefully hustle your way to success. This inviting opening has
definite drawbacks. First, anyone else can enter the field as easily
as you did, giving you a run for the money. Second, you are probably
relying more on your individual hustle than on the creation of something
that is uniquely yours. While you can earn more simply by working
more, your profits are ultimately related to, and limited by, your
You can also pursue a venture that adds value at a much higher
level than a simple lifestyle type of business. Yet this too has
its pros and cons. There are pie-eyed entrepreneurs who have sought
to build new satellite systems creating new communications networks.
Great idea, and, should the venture work, it would be very, very
hard to knock off by others. But of course one needs vast financial
and organizational resources to make such a plan pay off.
What do you want from your business?
Figuring out what you want from your business requires you to
answer one simple question first. What do you want out of life?
Sure, this question may seem a bit daunting. While its very
helpful if you can come up with your mission in life, going through
this exercise can sometimes become grueling and distracting. So
for the sake of starting a business, lets define this question
in some specific ways. You should know enough about what you want
to achieve in life to be able to make some important decisions concerning
your business goals. In particular, you need to consider what you
want, and need, your business to achieve for you.
There are several fundamental areas to consider. The first, for
lack of a better word, is lifestyle. What kind of life
do you want your business to accomplish for you? What type of people
would you like to spend your time with? How much personal time do
you need? Where do you want to live? What types of conversations
do you want to have every day? What kind of objects do you want
to handle, to learn more about?
Your particular business must match up to your own personal goals.
Remember that dreaming of building the next Microsoft is not only
unrealistic, but brings with it huge sacrifices. Many people want
an enterprise that provides a living while keeping them hooked into
something they care about deeply. We didnt want to set
up a business, says Tom First of their early days, We
wanted to set up a lifestyleand the business came out of it.
Initially the business was the vehicle for the lifestyle.
At the outset the two designed a simple enterprise that enabled
them to live on the island, deal with folks they liked, and maintain
a degree of control over their lives.
Your business ambitions should be aligned with your personal goals.
Will you be happy to have a simple, profitable, though low-growth
venture? If you dream about opening a bookstore, or making childrens
sweaters, can you live with just one location or a regional business?
How close to the operations of your business do you want to be (for
example., do you want to be in the kitchen cooking the meals, or
in the office running a string of restaurants?)?
Also, you should consider your aspirations. In other words, what
do you want your business to help you achieve? Do you really want
to change an industry, change the world? Is it critical that you
design a business that addresses a social issue, directly or indirectly,
large or small? What effect would you like it to have in the world?
And then, of course, you should consider what this business should
do in terms of your financial goals. Remember that in all likelihood
your business probably will not make you superwealthy.
It will certainly not bring you immediate riches. The vast majority
of entrepreneurs who leave steady jobs to launch companies take
at least several years to earn their former salary; many dont
ever match their former income. Yet the value of doing work they
love, or the satisfaction of ownership, or the equity they build
in their company, are often more than compensatory.
Of course, realizing your dreams certainly could lead to riches.
I wish you well in that regard. But heres a simple point:
Launching a business simply to become rich is almost certainly a
path to failure. Shift the equation from simply trying to maximize
dollars to creating value, and you will achieve financial success
in the course of creating a good business. Most entrepreneurs who
realize fortunes do so as a result of achieving a specific, and
often nonfinancial, goal. I defy anyone to find a mission statement
of Bill Gates that reads to become the richest man in the
world. No, his Croesus-like wealth came as a result of his
realizing a far more ambitious plan: to put a personal computer
on the desk of every person in the world.
Certainly your company must generate enough income to support you
and your familyif that is what you determine to be your goals.
Perhaps you have a spouse or partner to handle that end, or maybe
you have something to fall back on. The trick is to weigh your financial
goals against your personal goals, and then conceive of a business
that addresses both. The answer to the financial question always
boils down to a far more important question: What do you really
want from your business?
I cant stress enough how important it is to be very clear
about why you are launching this venture. For as you grow, you will
always need to return to your simple goals as a compass.
Whats your business?
Businesses, even small start-ups, come in many different shapes
and sizes. How about yours? Lets try to think about what you
would like to provide, and accomplish, with your business. Lets
start by looking at the four key ingredients of skills, passions,
resources, and opportunities. Again, remember that businesses are
not some abstract idea, but a viable enterprise for which you will
serve as the heart and soul. And so you must now begin to take stock
of what is possible for you.
There are four key areas for you to assess in deciding what type
of venture is appropriate for you. Your passions, skills,
resources, and opportunities. You need to assess
each with an open mind and then think through how they might translate
into a business.
As you go through these exercises, be sure to ask your closest
friends and family to keep you honest, since you need others to
keep track of where you have not been fully able to recognize hard
truths. Unfortunately, a business will amplify your individual weaknesses,
as your flaws will emerge miraculously as operational quirks and
liabilities. So the best way to manage this element is to be open
and out front with them from the beginning.
Of course the first person to listen to when starting your business
is yourself. Your business begins when you identify your strengths
and passions and they manifest as a business or service. As entrepreneur
and author Paul Hawken states, Your business must be an extension
of who you are and what you are trying to learn and achieve.
So ask yourself: What do you love? What are you good at? What change
do you want to realize in the world? Lets look at how to take
the first steps toward this goal.
Passions: Quite Simply, What Do You Care About?
What matters to you? What hobbies do you have? What do you want
to change in the world? What do you enjoy doing? What do you go
out of your way to learn about? What is important enough to interrupt
your daily routine? What makes you cross the street? Look back over
your life and identify the interests or callings youve pursued
that have been meaningful to you. Think beyond simple hobbies or
vocations and include personal themes or causes to which youve
devoted your time and energy.
Try answering this question without any consideration whatsoever.
Dont edit. Just write down five things that really matter
to you. If you cant come up with five, thats okay; perhaps
you are absolutely certain about your top two or three. But do be
Remember that you will be spending countless days and hours on
the guts of your business, so its important to identify areas
that compel you, offer opportunities for your own growth, and enable
you to produce something that others will care about deeply.
Many great businesses arise from matters that the founders care
passionately about. Founder and owner Wayne Erbsen of Native Ground
Music grew a simple business from his passion for traditional American
music. Originally a hobby of his, Erbsen launched a business gradually
by recording and writing about music from the time of the Civil
War and regions such as Appalachia. Working out of his home, Erbsen
has produced CDs and books that form the basis of a company that
sells more than $200,000 of products a year. Im tied
to my products, he says, Ive put my heart and
soul into my product and it means so much more to me when someone
calls me, I can say, I wrote the book and I sang the songs,
how can I help you?
Or consider Laura Peck Fennema, who was making a great living as
a stock analyst for Rothschild, Unterberg, and Towbin in the late
1980s. By day Fennema would pore over data and write reports on
communication equipment; at night and on weekends she would turn
to her passion for concocting aromatherapeutic products such as
facial cremes or bath remedies from natural botanical oils. Fennema
would share these products with her mother and three sisters, who
all encouraged her to find a broader audience.
And finally, in 1989, Fennema did. I came upon a real defining
moment: whether to spend my whole life focusing on how much money
I could make, or how to spend it focusing on what I loved to do
and had a real passion for, says Fennema. After a year of
preparation, learning the market and testing the viability of a
venture based on her passion, Fennema took the leap. She launched
Essentiel (spelled to reflect the French origins of the word) Elements
in 1989, and today the company has more than forty employees and
did more than $6 million in business last year.
Skills: What Are You Good At?
The categories are broad and range from technical chops in computer
programming to a proficiency at writing zippy prose to more abstract
personal skills such as being good at listening to people or understanding
how to gather and make sense of information. Your skills comprise
everything you have learned in school or in previous jobs, as well
as any innate talents and capabilities that you have. This exercise
is most akin to analyzing what you offer prospective employees;
yet now you are thinking about applying these talents to your own
Dont focus simply on the most valuable skills you have, the
ones that you believe will lead to the most money in the market.
For now just write down everything that you believe you are good
at. For Shari Fitzpatrick, her skill was making chocolate-dipped
strawberries. Thats right--chocolate-dipped strawberries.
She was making a fine living as a mortgage broker in Sacramento,
California, partly because she would pamper her realtors with baskets
of chocolate-dipped strawberries. The gifts became so popular that
Fitzpatrick eventually began selling them out of her home, and then
opened a shop in 1991. Today her company has four stores and a booming
Resources: What resources are readily
available to you? Cash? Tools? Expertise? Contacts? Property? Fame?
In many ways the crucial link between an idea and its realization
are the resources that make it happen. You may just be able to derive
a meaningful business from the resources to which you already have
access. People tend to overestimate the importance of the
resources that they haveand underestimate the importance of
the ones they dont, says restaurateur and serial entrepreneur
Scott Shaw. In the next chapter well explore how to realistically
assess the resources your venture will need, and how you will gain
access to them. But in the meantime, you should think about how
your resources on hand may suggest a viable business.
Opportunities: Finally, think about what
you could do immediately.
Perhaps you could ply the trade you now practice within a large
firm on your own. Maybe you could tweak it just a bit, and launch
a company on that. Try to answer this question. Say you are reading
this book on the weekend. What type of business could you begin
operating this coming Monday?
Is there a product or service that you need but cant find
somewhere? And, is this something you know enough about to provide
to others? Thats what Ann Handley and Andy Bourland did when
they launched a Web site named ClickZ in May of 1997. At the time,
the two were just looking for a quick way to realize some extra
cash. Bourland had been hit with an unexpected tax bill and needed
supplemental income from his job as director of business development
at the Internet company Andover.net. He and his friend Handley,
a journalist who had written for trade publications but lacked Web
experience, realized that they were both frustrated with the lack
of information available on how to market online. They couldnt
find the type of site they wanted.
So they created their own. Handley and Bourland launched ClickZ
as a Web site where people who worked on the net could share their
marketing expertise. Because Bourland was familiar with the technology,
he could quickly learn enough web design skills to present a rudimentary
site; Handley tapped her skills as a freelance journalist to produce
copy. Before long they had formed a community of people who did
business on the Web; and by providing information from folks in
the trenches, and providing a place where others could learn, the
two had created a profitable company. The site grew slowly but surely,
earning them a profit from the early days, and in 2000 they sold
Okay, now you must take these four areas and brainstorm how they
might lead to a business. Its likely that you have already
begun to focus on one product or service. Yet before settling, go
beyond literal thinkingtry lateral thinking as well. In other
words, dont edit yourself. Just write down your ideas and
possibilities without judging how good they are. You may surprise
yourself with an opportunity you hadnt considered.
Finally, begin sifting through your prospects and decide on your
first choice. Dont worry about whether this will be your absolutely
final decision. Your business in all likelihood will evolve as you
begin the process of testing its viability.
Congratulations, youre in business
At this point you have defined your goals, and identified your
skills, passions, resources, and opportunities. You have begun to
match a type of business with your own goals and assets. You have
acknowledged how much work lies ahead of you; and you have begun
to think through the resources, in terms of cash and people and
general wherewithal, that you will need in the months ahead. Now
you should take the next steps. As you do, here are a few final
Trust your heart
At this stage in your nascent venture, concentrate more on what
you care about rather than simply what you are good at. Choose a
path that is formed by your passions more than your skills. You
can always learn new skills, but you wont stop caring deeply
about the things that really matter to you. Finally, dont
worry so much about the market for your productyet. Start
with what matters to you, and whether somebody else will buy it.
You are your first customer. Once you are passionately convinced
of your offering, then you will be able to persuade customers (or
investors or partners, for that matter) simply and naturally.
The strength of your business will be fundamentally tied to the
strength of the networks that you form. While you may not know everyone
you need to get your business running, now is the time to begin
to create formal and informal networks that support and nourish
your venture. You begin these ties with a simple telephone call.
Call ten friends, ten potential customers, ten competitors, ten
vendors, ten potential investors. Ask them what they think of your
venture. Ask them what they need for theirs. Ask them about what
works for their company, and what has been their greatest failure.
Ask why. Great entrepreneurs are naturally curious. They achieve
breakthroughs and see things differently because they have more
information at their disposal. Keep in mind that many successful
people are willing to share what they know. So if you respect their
time by preparing for an interview and limiting the time you will
be surprised at the information you can glean from unlikely sources.
According to research from Paul Reynolds, it often takes a lot
longer for individual businesses to become viable, profitable enterprises
than many people imagine. Some businesses take as long as seven
yearsyes, seven yearsbefore showing sufficient profits
for the owners to support themselves from the enterprise. Naturally,
your particular business probably wont take this longbut
you should never assume that profits will come immediately. Thats
why its important to get started nowto take those first
steps toward putting your energies into a business context. Youve
begun to identify what you have to offer and merged with a thought
toward how it adds value.
Moreover, you wont necessarily end up where you start out.
Professor Robert Ronstadt of Pepperdine University says the entrepreneurial
process is guided by the corridor principle, by which
the act of moving forward makes it possible for you to land in the
right entrepreneurial place. The learning process allows you
to see opportunities you didnt see before, he says.
So dont censor yourself. Already weve heard of businesses
such as Nantucket Nectars that began simply as a vehicle for two
young college grads to live the lifestyle they wanted. Yet many
of todays largest corporations also started life as vehicles
for their individual founders. Perhaps the most famous is Hewlett-Packard,
which also grew out of the lifestyle choices of the two founders;
the company produced a variety of different products before finding
a successful and profitable market.
Congratulations. Youve started your business. There are all
kinds of indicators for when a business beginswhen you give
it a name, when you record the first sale, when you incorporate,
or when you file a tax form. I believe that the fact that you have
conceived of a business means that you are in business. Now lets
move on to thinking about what makes your business unique and valuable.
Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur?
Here is a set of questions that will test your entrepreneurial
mettle. Don't worry about being graded on your responses. I dont
believe that this comes down to a pass-fail distinction. But these
questions are designed to help you examine whether you will find
the entrepreneurial life to be a good fit with your disposition.
Can you afford the time, energy, and consuming
Are you comfortable making decisions?
Do you learn new skills quickly?
Are you willing to admit, and compensate for,
Does selling come naturally to you?
Have you ever started a business before?
Can you live with rejection and loneliness?
Do you have personal and emotional support for
Do you mind giving orders?
Are you willing to brave uncertainty?
Do you believe, truly believe, in what you are
about to do?
Are you prepared for your life to change completely?
And, if you answered no to every question
on this list, are you still willing to start? Today? [back
Should You Keep Your Day Job?
Tempting as it is to jump into your new business with both feet,
it makes sense for most people to hang on to their day jobs, at
least for a while. Your new venture may very well be an extension
of your activities at your current job. Maintaining continuity helps
in several ways.
First and foremost is simple cash flow. Your business may not be
profitable enough to pay you a salary for some time, and the longer
you can keep regular income flowing in, the more time and energy
you will be able to dedicate to refining your product and developing
Along with a salary, of course, are benefitswhich should
never be taken for granted. Health insurance is a major expense,
assuming you can even qualify for the same level of coverage you
have. If you have a chronic health condition, such as high blood
pressure or diabetes, you may have trouble finding coverage at all.
Moreover, having your company withhold taxes and pay half your social
security is a blessing. Start-up entrepreneurs are often shocked
by their first year of taxes as a separate enterprise; having extra
taxes withheld from your salary can soften the blow.
Finally, existing businesses often root you in the industry you
want to be in, and keep you connected with potential customers,
partners, and other supporters. For many small-business owners,
especially in service sectors, their employer may be their first
and most important client, or may even be an initial source of capital.
And the right day job can be an apprenticeship as valuable as a
graduate degree. While youre working, you may also be able
to take advantage of job-related training programs that will help
you later on: professional continuing education, computer training,
human resources workshops, and more
Theres no reason you cant start a company while holding
on to a job. Yet if you choose to do so, you need to be honest with
your employer about your plans. You have to have an agreement
with your present employer, because starting a business is time-consuming,
says Ann Marie Stanton, who was able to start her own business as
a Los Angelesbased antique jewelry dealer, while working as
an assistant to HMS, an established dealer. Stanton kept close ties
with her former employer after branching out on her own. It
was important not to burn any bridges, she said, and
Harriet [her former employer] is a big supporter of mine [back
Successful entrepreneurs do not wait until 'the Muse kisses
them' and gives them a 'bright idea'; they go to work. Altogether,
they do not look for the 'biggie,' the innovation that will 'revolutionize
the industry,' create a 'billion-dollar business,'or 'make one rich
overnight.' Those entrepreneurs who start out with the idea that
they will make it bigand in a hurrycan be guaranteed
failure. They are almost bound to do the wrong things. An innovation
that looks very big may turn out to be nothing but technical virtuosity;
and innovations with modest intellectual pretensions, a McDonalds,
for instance, may turn into gigantic, highly profitable businesses.
The same applies to nonbusiness, public-service innovations.
Successful entrepreneurs, whatever their individual motivationsbe
it money, power, curiosity, or the desire for fame and recognitiontry
to create value and to make a contribution. Still, successful entrepreneurs
aim high. They are not content simply to improve on what already
exists, or to modify it. They try to create new and different values
and new and different satisfactions, to convert a material
into a resource, or to combine existing resources in
a new and more productive configuration.
Peter Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship,
I think one of the things that has been a big learning experience
has been to fess up to what your strengths and weaknesses are. That
is a really hard thing to come to grips with. If you want your business
to grow you have to really make sure that the people you are working
with tell you what you are doing wrong. And you must be willing
to listen. Otherwise you get stuck between wanting to grow your
business and being willing to take the time to really address your
shortcomings. And that is a big learning process. You can sort of
fudge it in a big company, where somebody may pick up the slack
for you. But in that large company you may not have enough leverage
for that weakness to have consequences. In a small company it might
Roxanne Coady, owner R. J. Julia Bookstore in Madison,
I think that opening a business is a leap of faith. You are
abandoning a lot of your old life, you cant return to anything.
And there is an unnerving aspect to it. Most small business owners
think about that stuff, and forget about it. They arent necessarily
triumphing over their fearsthey are just setting them aside.
Persistence, and the act of believing in yourself is the
most powerful and underrated attribute needed for starting a business.
When you start a company everyone elses mission will be to
tell you you cant do it. Competitors will beat up on you,
investors will try to reduce your worth to get a better deal, and
on and on. You need to have a reason to believe in yourself.
Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm
I dont know how people design or plan every kind of
business, but I usually think that any business starts with a product.
Its hard to think of a business where you shouldnt build
a great product before anything else. Entrepreneurs are cluttered
with the concept that systems, business plans, margins, investors,
advisors, press releases, etc. have something to do with starting
a business up and running. BS. Its all about a product and
telling your story to the customers. If the product is great, its
an easy story to tell. If the product sucksits a hard
story to tell. Refine your product and design it in a way that it
can be reasonably available to your target customers and you have
a business. Eventually you have to figure out the economics. But
if your product sucks and you have all the economics figured out,
you will have wasted your time (and your investors money.
Tom First, Nantucket Nectars
Business will occupy an enormous amount of your living, breathing
hours. I dont really know much about working for someone elses
company, but I know that I bring my work home with me every day
of my life. It has its benefits and its problems. I suppose that
employees can put it behind them when they walk out of the door.
But as an entrepreneur you need to carry the little picture in your
mind all of the time, but still be able to step back and look at
Tom First, Nantucket Nectars
Prior success, confidence, and the ability to sell are all
absolutely vital to becoming an entrepreneur, and can be cultivated.
The things that have helped me are a track record of prior successes,
a well-rounded skill set, and a knowledge of the market.
Desh Deshpande, Sycamore Networks