You can have a revolutionary business idea, but that doesn't mean you're cut out to be an entrepreneur.
To no one's surprise, starting a business can be tricky. A person can have an amazingly revolutionary, insightful business idea, but that doesn't necessarily mean that person is cut out to be an entrepreneur. After starting three businesses, and reflecting on my personal and professional journey, I've come to realize that while no two business owners' paths are identical, there are some universal experiences that can help to shed some light on the entrepreneurial adventure. Here's some of what I've learned along the way regarding my expectations versus reality.
You can't be scared of change.
In the romanticized version of my career path, I would've known early on that I wanted to open my own business. I would've gleefully launched my first lemonade stand as a child, relentlessly won student council leadership elections throughout my teen years, and studied economics and business in college with an insatiable fervor. But in real life, I didn't grow up with entrepreneurial aspirations. I studied politics and journalism in college, majoring in political science.
After leaving school, I came to the realization that I wasn't on the career path I was looking for, so with the intent of finding a single role that could sustain me professionally and financially, I went into law. As my law career progressed, I started realizing that I really liked working with companies and solving for business issues. There was something about being present at the deal table, working with other executives and making a difference in a company's trajectory that I found a passion for. Being privy to these insightful business conversations and product development was incredibly exciting, and it ignited my own professional interests further.
Experiencing business law first hand is what led me to start both of my businesses, Nimbus Legal and Auxana, as well as a venture, Contract Moxie (coming soon), after noticing specific gaps within the legal industry where my business ideas could make a difference. Looking back, there was no solid career trajectory and plenty of forks in the road where I could have made different decisions. Interests change and passions evolve, and I would recommend to any entrepreneur to never say never.
Don't get hung up on prior expectations.
When I launched my first business, I felt pretty confident that I was bringing an idea to market that was critically needed within my industry. My drive stemmed from feeling the pain of working for a law firm, and experiencing issues around misaligned incentives such as the billable hour and subpar service to our clients. I didn't need to "guess" at what was needed in the industry – I felt the pains firsthand. Because my company addressed specific, known issues within my industry, my business grew organically and steadily, much to every entrepreneur's dream.
That being said, my business grew fast; in fact, faster than I expected and faster than I was prepared for. It was both surprising and humbling to see peoples' reactions to my idea, and the level of "busy" that took over my life was even more than I'd prepared myself for. If you'd asked me three years ago if I would be where I am now, I wouldn't have believed it. I'm the type of entrepreneur who has a perfectionist chip on their shoulder, and I'm typically moving at 100 mph. While that's natural and fun for me, I've also come to the realization that often, I need to course-correct or even let go of an idea entirely in order to be successful.
Being too much of a perfectionist can cause you to get "stuck" in that you're not pulling the trigger and moving forward, because the idea you have in your head is different than the reality. I've learned that putting something out there that's not "100% perfect" is actually better than getting hung up on the itty-bitty details and, as a result, putting out nothing.
Learn when to move forward and when to say when.
Naturally working at a rapid pace has made it difficult for me to turn off, but it's also a crucial lesson for any entrepreneur to learn. When the ideas are flowing and innovation feels like second nature, it's easier said than done. For example, I pushed myself to work and launch my second business through my third trimester of pregnancy. By working at that pace, I hoped we could gain enough momentum to launch. Looking back, I made a decision, I evaluated all of the possibilities, and the pros outweighed the cons.
My situation is similar to many startup founders, who are currently executives in existing companies. They have the idea, but there's that pesky employment issue. Determining how much time can you can give to this new venture when you're already full time somewhere else, it can feel overwhelming and isolating. There are so many expectations to manage, including your own. Making the decision to go all-in is scary and stressful. Having my second baby this year has been truly wonderful and a reminder that it is more than OK to take care of myself and be present with my family; rather, that it is the most important thing and inherently leads to more success in all facets. Everything is an experiment, and it's OK to fail. In fact, I encourage it! Fail often, and fail sooner rather than later. It's alright to make mistakes along the way as long as you're learning from them.
What I'm saying is if you've got the drive and the tendency toward innovation, then you're already on the entrepreneurial career path. Whether you stay on that path is up to you, but don't let fear of the unknown or perfectionist inclinations stop you from moving forward. As they say, it's the hard that makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.