This question is seldom asked, and for that reason, never answered, but something you should ask yourself before attempting to start a business. Before I continue, please understand I want you to succeed. I want you to have the American dream of working hard, and lifting yourself out of the corporate servitude that forces you to work for someone else your entire life. I always note to people, 150+ years ago, we all worked for ourselves. Since the industrial revolution, we’ve all become sheep to other people’s ideas, and unfortunately, we’ve allowed our brains and overall education to atrophy in the process. My hope is that if you’ve stumbled onto this obscure website, written by some weirdo who wants to share his secrets to success, you’re the type of person who should be here.
So you want to start a business?
That’s good. At least you’ve been bitten by the bug that haunts many of us. What I want to try and do is get you to take a careful look at your history and try to identify your past urges to do this before. Were you the kid who sold lemonade in front of your house? Did you move cookies, candy bars, or magazines for your school? Did you offer a service to get through college like repairing computers? Or did you at any point feel the urge to do this, but never got around to it for external factors? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you probably have a genetic quality that will be useful as you move forward.
One of the most basic milestones in becoming an entrepreneur is seeing the world in a different light. We are brought up to think that working for someone else is the ONLY way to handle life, and for some, any other form of life is simply that, too daunting. Sometimes you’ll have a spouse who can’t imagine it, and you’ll need to factor that in when starting off. He or she may not support you, and attempt to sabotage your venture from the start. If that were the case, you’ll need to plan like a mother. Start slow, explain your intentions, outline what is a success and a failure, agree on a sum of money you’re both willing to sacrifice to get the dream started, then work like hell to make it a reality.
The first thing I noticed when becoming 100% self-employed is that there is a microcosm of the population that are also self-employed. We drive the streets when everyone else is at work. We eat lunches together at odd hours, and show up to our offices on the weekends, while others are basking in the summer beaches during prime time. What I also realized is that self-employed small business owners stick together. We buy products and services from each other, and the money just goes in circles forever. We barter services when we’re broke, and refer other friends to them to keep the dream alive. You too will join this brotherhood as soon as you can survive off your income.
The other question I ask people who tell me about their dream of starting a business is whether or not they have any relatives that have created a business. This usually catches folks off guard. As soon as they think back a couple generations, they can always find one, because again, we were all self-employed not too long ago. It is valuable to take pride in the blood that is running through your genes. You have knowledge stored up in that bloodline of yours, and it can sometimes be the reason people suddenly get the urge to break free from the constraints of the day-to-day lives. Once you start enduring some of the pain you’ll encounter by starting a business, it will help to say, “I am a [SURNAME], and we have done this for centuries!” There is a lot of sucking up to be done from your past habits when you go solo. I find this technique works wonders in a psychological pinch. When I found out my great great grandfather was one of the oldest serving soldiers in the Civil War, and that he was a patent holding inventor, I was intrigued. I already knew my other grand parents were business owners and farmers, so there was no mystery why I was drawn to go it alone.
Defining your end goals
When deciding to start a business, you need an internal goal. There are usually two primary groups for this: financial gain, and lifestyle improvement. If one is going to focus on a financial gain, there are some key things to keep in mind. One, you’re not going to be as passionate about the business itself as the person who is going for a lifestyle change. A person who is focusing on a lifestyle change is someone who is running a lifetime marathon as opposed to trying to create that winning lottery ticket. I have not personally seen anyone achieve the financial goal objective, and this is due entirely to their lack of commitment to the business as a whole, and their patience for the time required to reach the financial sum. Folks who want to do what they love, are not preoccupied with a financial landmark. They simply want to enjoy their life, make a decent wage, save for a rainy day, and get by. This latter group seldom ever utters the word “retirement,” where as the financially focused obsesses on the notion.
Having separated these two objectives, I do want to stress that a business without an income is a hobby, plain and simple. So if you find yourself in this latter group of lifestyle seeking adventurer, please understand you do need to earn a living wage. If the business languishes, and starts to create pain and suffering within your family, that would be a good time to restructure your goals to include money.
If you are the former more financially driven entrepreneur, you need to ensure that you don’t become some soulless drone that can’t get a client, or fulfill the work ordered, because you simply don’t care about anything other than the paycheck. This might sound absurd to mention, but I run into these types all the time. If you build a successful business, you’ll make money, but that requires you to put passion into what you do, even if all you do is act as a middle-man.
The first 40%, the next 55%, and the final 5%
Any project in the world has three phases: the first 40, the middle 55, and the final 5. These are the percentages that define the psychological struggle one goes through to get to the finish line. Each is double the difficulty of the next, and for those of you bad at math, the last 5% is four times as difficult as the first 40%. Some will tell you it’s higher, and I won’t argue with them.
I have a nickname for the first 40% that I call the “fun 40.” Virtually everyone lying to themselves about their dedication and or qualifications to start a business leave the project the moment the 41% occurs. This is due to the honeymoon being over with no hope of return. When a partner shows the ability to sail through this threshold, you know you have a good candidate on your hands. When they make it through the last 5%, you know you have gold. I want to note that the first 40 doesn’t necessarily mean the first 40% of the schedule. The first 40 refers to the first 40% of work that needs to be done, and typically entails all the setup phases. It could be something as simple as procuring office space, or arranging a bunch of assets to prepare for work. In the video game business, it’s often laying out all the class libraries or doing some preliminary sketches. Once the code needs to be written, and final artwork created, you’re in the thick of it.
The next 55% is the grind. It’s the rinse and repeat cycle of crawling up the steps of the Aztec pyramid to your goal. This is a very tricky area to try and advise another human being on. This is where “love” comes into the picture. If you love what you do, you can usually endure this lengthy grind phase. Love will help you spring out of bed in the morning and do what it takes to get in front of the computer, or on a construction site, or whatever it is you choose to do. If you have partners, this is where you guys can lean on each other. Just be cognizant of how much you take. Make sure to give back as well. Keep reiterating the end goal, and the benefits of success. Understand that it may not go the way you planned, but getting to the finish line has massive benefits for any group working together.
The last 5% is the real challenge. The best way I can describe the last 5% of any project is that it feels like you’re dying inside. Every single day you feel like you should be done, but some little detail rears its ugly face, and keeps you from deploying your game, collecting your check, and moving on with your next project. The best way to shorten this last phase is to plan your butt off. Plan for every single thing that can go wrong. We call this a contingency plan. I find that telling my groups about these phases really helps them set their personal expectations and to make adjustments accordingly. In the video game business, this involves working late hours, working on weekends, and denying themselves other luxuries until we launch.
Above all, if you decide that entrepreneurship is for you, please realize that only your partners will share this perspective with you. Your employees will be your employees. They won’t help take out the trash, or sympathize when you can’t make payroll. The burden is on your shoulders. Plan carefully, and get your goals