You don’t have to be a new venture advisor like me to hear all the excuses for not starting your own business. I’m sure all of you have friends who are not happy in their employee roles, and are not shy about complaining, but never seem to get around to doing anything about it. They can cite all the myths about being too old to change, not having the money, or no business degree.
They ignore the fact that Colonel Sanders was 62 when he franchised KFC, Steve Jobs started Apple in his garage, and Michael Dell and several others dropped out of school to build billion dollar businesses. Unfortunately, sorting out facts from excuses in the new venture arena has always been difficult, and today’s information overload has made it that much harder.
To organize my thoughts, I found a new book, “Burn the Business Plan,” by Carl Schramm, who speaks from experience founding five companies, working major corporate roles, and being an active venture investor. Among many other insights, he offers a perspective on several myths of entrepreneurship, which I can now paraphrase and prioritize based on my own experience:
- A real startup needs investors to get off the ground. In fact, research by Fundable shows that less than one percent of all startups are funded by venture capital and angel investors. Bootstrapping allows you to maintain full control of your startup strategy, retain maximum equity, and avoid the time delay and energy spent to attract outside investors.
- You need a business degree to start a venture today. The real value of a college education is in learning how to learn, since markets and business models are changing so fast. Business strategies are best learned from experience. In today’s world, more successful entrepreneurs have built on degrees in engineering rather than business.
- Working in a corporate world reduces your startup potential. On the contrary, early corporate training courses, potential future customer contacts, and getting real world marketing experience all are extremely useful for budding entrepreneurs. In addition, a regular paycheck and benefits help you build up resources before and between startups.
- Most successful entrepreneurs are young and crazy. According to the Kauffman Foundation and other studies, the average entrepreneur is actually thirty-nine years old, and the success rate of entrepreneurs over forty is five times higher than that of entrepreneurs under thirty. The percentage of startups created by entrepreneurs in the 55 to 64 age demographic is now growing faster than any other.
- You need quirky and more unheard-of ideas to succeed. The idea that novel products with minimal value to customers will somehow start a new trend is simply false. There is no substitute for market analysis, customer interaction, and attacking a real problem. Disruptive market changes take more time and money, and have the highest failure rate.
- Most successful startups spring from local incubators. An incubator may get you over initial hesitations, by connecting you with peers, advisors, and guiding you through the process of setting up a business. I find that most good founders proceed faster on their own, with less drain on their time from peers and programs, and no equity dilution.
- All successful businesses start with a business plan. In reality, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and many others achieved success before they had business plans. The majority of startups, who don’t seek outside investors, most often choose to explore alternatives in real time, without a written plan to guide them or slow them down.
On this last point, I happen to believe that business plans, independent of investors, still have value in forcing new entrepreneurs to think through many key elements of their idea often initially overlooked – including the real size of the opportunity, cost of operations, and viable competitors. I have found that experienced entrepreneurs, who may least need plans, routinely create them.
Overall, there is no doubt in my mind that the image of an entrepreneur is at an all-time high, and the cost of entry is at an all-time low. So why would you continue to work in an employee role that you hate, and make excuses or believe the myths the keep you from starting your own business? It’s never too late to step into a new role where the definition of “work” is something you love.