Before you created your first business, you likely romanticized what life as an entrepreneur would entail. You’d be your own boss, setting your own hours, doing exactly what you’d always dreamed of doing.
You didn’t think about the long hours you’d be forced to put in as you struggled to build your business. The fights with partners and hours of work you’d have to throw away likely weren’t part of the fantasy, either.
But as most entrepreneurs quickly learn, even though life as an entrepreneur isn’t perfect, it’s the only life for them.
What differentiates an entrepreneur and a wannapreneur? While there’s no exact science, founders have discussed the topic in-depth over the years. With each discussion, there are a few common threads that easily serve to predict which founders will be successful in a business world full of ambitious leaders.
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The Real Life of an Entrepreneur
When an entrepreneur is in it for the right reasons, he is willing to put in the hard work necessary to build a business. Khosla Ventures’ Vinod Khosla compares the life of an entrepreneur to a roller coaster, with highs and lows that make it difficult to persevere at times. An entrepreneur will face loneliness and almost insurmountable challenges, but it also encourages you to always stretch yourself in ways you might not have otherwise.
“The authenticity of that idea to that entrepreneur is really important because it gets you through those moments,” – Ann Miura Ko, co-founding partner at FLOODGATE Ventures
Entrepreneurship is Artistry
Steve Blank, author of "The Startup Owner’s Manual," compares entrepreneurship to the life of an artist. Unlike a job, where a person takes on one small piece of a much larger pie, a founder must hold everything together. Entrepreneurs must have a drive that propels them past the toughest days, including those times when everything seems to be going wrong.
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“Unless you’re driven to make something happen out of nothing, you’ll go, ‘What do I need this for?' But if you’re driven, those are just obstacles you’ll remove.” - Steve Blank
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Entrepreneurs Appreciate Freedom
Despite its many drawbacks, entrepreneurship has one benefit that resonates with natural founders. Google Ventures’ Bill Maris felt uncomfortable in an environment where his time was controlled by someone else. Entrepreneurship is ideal for someone who likes to be his own boss, rather than work hard each day to line someone else’s pockets.
However, freedom isn’t a good reason to pursue business ownership. In fact, many entrepreneurs find they go from having someone else set their schedules to working around the clock to please clients and meet deadlines.
An entrepreneur may think he’ll set his own schedule, but he’ll often end up putting in far more hours than he would have spent working for someone else. This is an addition to other benefits an entrepreneur gives up when he leaves office life behind.
A Need to Win
Charles Zachary believed in Twitter’s Ev Williams long before the world sent its first tweet. As part of the Charles River Ventures team, Zachary believes in the importance of investing in people, not companies. He has served as original lead on such investments as Yammer and Udacity and co-lead on Pebble and Cotap.
What does Zachary see as a common denominator in top leaders? A need to win.
Not a drive or desire to win, but an, “all-consuming, almost destructive need to win.” This is the main reason entrepreneurs have a chance to compete with large brands. That drive differentiates successful entrepreneurs from those who never quite break through. That relentless drive will push an entrepreneur forward, compelling him to keep working no matter what obstacles he encounters.
While entrepreneurial life promises phenomenal success and the opportunity to be your own boss, it comes at a price. With so many startups, it’s important that an entrepreneur be in it for the right reasons from the start. This will help them get past the many obstacles they will encounter as they work to grow their business.