Starting a business isn’t just about taking risks. It’s also about how you like to work, and how much you believe in your ideas.
You got to have a lot of gall to start a business. The risks are deep and plentiful. Perhaps you have the strength and determination but your business concept is fatally flawed. You may falter when the pressure’s on and there are no clear indications you will be able to produce sales fast enough to keep up with expenses.
And no matter how successful you are at raising seed capital, it won’t be enough. To succeed, nearly everything has to go right. There are a lot of moving parts ready to crack at any given moment, bringing the whole line down.
Some people are naturally unafraid of risk. They’re daredevils. They’re aware of danger and they’re willing to strike out anyway. Serial entrepreneurs are not typically daredevils. Daredevils don’t start business after business – it’s too much work. Entrepreneurs are usually people who simply don’t believe their business is likely to fail. So they plunge ahead, usually unprepared and under funded. When they get into trouble, they’re usually very surprised. By then, there’s no time for introspection. You’re into the hard scramble.
In my first book I wrote about home business. I included a test I found at the Federal Trade Commission Website. The test contained about 60 questions. It was designed to reveal your level of risk aversion. If your discomfort with risk was high, you were not a good candidate to start your own company. I scored very high. The answers to all the questions were self evident. I almost didn’t include the test fearing that it was meaningless. Everyone would score high. But tests are fun, so it left it in.
When the book came out, I sent copies to my family. I talked with my little brother Jim a few weeks later. He said, “Man, I’m sure glad I never started a business.”
“I failed that risk test completely.”
I was shocked. I honestly thought everyone would score high and get the rating, “You’re ready to start a business right this minute.” Jim found himself in the complete opposite category of, “You would probably be happy as a mid-level government bureaucrat.”
My brother teaches philosophy at a small Midwestern college. He’s been at the college for about 15 years. He’s tenured. His students love him, and he’s peacefully raising a very snug family. On many days I’d happily swap my business ups and downs for his day-by-day stability.
I don’t like jobs. But my last job worked out fine. I was the editor of a business publication. My boss was 2,000 miles way. I was responsible for filling 8 to 10 pages of a magazine each month. My boss liked my copy. Twice each year we would meet up at a conference. We would have dinner at a restaurant with dimmed lights, undercooked steak and pricy red wine. But that’s not a real job.
I don’t like jobs because they don’t feel right. I like to work, and as I work, I like to build something that seems logical to me. This piece goes here, and that piece goes over there. That’s true of building a business and just as true in building a book. I am constitutionally unable to perform well when someone says, “No, I don’t want that piece here. I want it over there.” Well, you’re going to have to get someone else to put it over there.
This is a matter of what seems right. Not necessarily what seems comfortable. And not necessarily what is intrinsically risky. Simply what seems right. Here’s how risk fits in: I’m willing to endure a great amount of risk for the freedom to follow my own inclinations. If I’m not living in a manner in which I get to uncover and pursue my curiosity and inclinations, I’m not very happy.
It took me four businesses and 35 years to learn that simple truth. Some of the businesses succeeded some didn’t, but all were an exercise in following my own silly little path.