Being an entrepreneur takes guts; the buck stops with you. If there are issues, it’s on you. If there are successes, well that’s on you too. You can’t blame anyone but yourself. You have to make your own life choices. I don’t think anyone questions that. Whether it’s a crappy product, mismanagement of funds, or poor launch execution…most startup businesses dwindle and die. This leads me to my story of entrepreneurial spirit, and the pitfalls that are inherent with any startup.
The life of an entrepreneur is not as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. Eating Ramen noodles, while your patient and loving (but obviously wants you to find a stable job) girlfriend dreams of romantic dinners and foreign travel; basically, being a struggling entrepreneur is not the greatest confidence booster. Your friends will be out partying, while you’re focusing on saving $5 to pay off your corporate Gmail account. They won’t understand the blood, sweat, and tears. You have to buy cheap loose tobacco to smoke, not because you think you’re hip, but because you need to feed your nicotine addiction; every penny and thought counts. Literally.
The History – Life Choices
Around 4 years ago, I turned in my gun and badge – best job in the world – with the hopes of joining the modern day gold rush; the mobile application economy. I packed up from sunny south Florida and moved to the bustling city of Chicago. Cashing in my pension contributions and 457b plan, I decided it was time to take a shot.
I will not name my app; it’s “still in beta.” I will expose my shortcomings as a businessman. I am writing this in hopes of informing you, the next Unicorn CEO, how to grab the bull by the horns and enjoy some delicious ox tail.
How do I know if my product is any good?
This may be the toughest question of all. You can’t really trust friends or family to tell you the truth. They will always support you – or at least I hope they would. You don’t want to post a survey on social media, as that gives away your idea to potential competition (yes, paranoia is key to a successful launch). All I can say is find something you’re passionate about and go with it. You could always pay for 3rd party surveys, but that takes money and time. Both of which are often limited in a bootstrapped business owner’s balance sheet.
Avoid the pitfalls of doing “the next big thing.” Sometimes, the tortoise really does outshine the hare. What may seem flashy in the moment, really is just a flash in the pan. Hell, the company that supplies recyclable egg crates is a multi-million dollar business. Just because it’s not ‘sexy’ in this trendsetting world, doesn’t mean it’s not ‘sexy’ on the profit margins. What drives you will be the best gauge of the right product; your passionate support equates to a quality product.
That passion will also get you through the rough times of no income, and at least inspire you to market the concept every chance you can get. Eventually, if your idea has any legs, it will reach critical mass and the rest is for the history books – ok not really, since once you become successful the work and stress just triples. Basically, if you believe in your product, it will show and the customers will respond.
Get your product to market first – but don’t put crap on the shelves
Well, suffice it to say, my app still isn’t where I want it to be. The third party programmers still have not finished a polished Beta version, and it’s been over three years. The lesson: build your own product; don’t rely on others. At the end of the day, I don’t want something that I wouldn’t use out there. This is the conundrum. When to go to market?
I still think that my concept crushes the competition (misguided delusional confidence perhaps?) and existed long before they did. Then why are they so successful and I’m stuck pudding around writing articles? Well, that’s simple. They picked a few core functions, optimized them, and got to market, while I was left tinkering with all the potentially “amazing” functions that didn’t exist yet. They soaked up the market before I even went live in the app store. Now, even though I’m basically a non-existent percentage of market share, people still are finding my app and downloading it. This is without any marketing, and with each download, my eyes twinkle.
So my advice, regardless of product: find something that you would use in day-to-day life, and hone your sights on that specifically. Don’t worry about offshoots of products. Make your one product, or service, the best it can be and launch it. The rest will fall into place over time.
Bootstrapping is a bad idea – play with other people’s money
Sure, if you use your own money you won’t give up equity to some group of slicked back Gordon Gecko types. BUT, you also will be destitute if your product fails. I know what you’re already thinking in your head. My product won’t fail! GREAT! That’s the spirit! Yet, let me tell you from experience, if your product fails, at least you’ll have lost someone else’s money and not your own. Sounds selfish right? Well, that’s business. The investors know the risk; nothing’s a sure thing. I’d rather have a smaller piece of a pie someone else helped paid for, than buy the entire pie while risking my life savings – which is exactly what I did.
If you have a good idea, and can scrap together a prototype on limited funds, then why not seek outside investors? If anything, it will be a reassurance that your product is good enough that another human wants to give you money for it. Just make sure you have legal advice regarding the partnership agreement, the devil always lurks in the details.
An “Experienced” Entrepreneur’s Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, if you’ve got the balls to give up the comforts and security of a 9 to 5 job, you’re an entrepreneur and you know what to do. Just know that with being your own boss, comes the constant work thoughts and stresses of putting your name on a product. The product becomes an extension of your character to the public. If it is a failure, you will see yourself as a failure – regardless of how ridiculous that sounds. You’re in this alone. Just accept the fact that you may fail, but you may also be the greatest IPO story ever! That’s some odds I like.
That being said, creating a successful startup is the dream of many Americans. Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds happiness. Happiness is the end goal of life. Screw the haters. They don’t have the gall to take the leap. Even if you come up short, what’s the worst that can happen? You lose all of your money, gain a ton of experience, and it’s back to the job search? Kinda sounds like graduating from college. Not so bad in comparison to looking back, 25 years from now, regretting never stepping out of someone else’s cubicle.