7.5 not-so-glam lessons: on being an entrepreneur

you could have told me that i was crazy to "anything worth having is hard work."
start my own business (because many did) and that my idea was worthless (heard that too). but, i would have done it anyway.

perhaps i'm stubborn (because i am) or downright nuts (arguably so as well), but there is nothing nor no one who could've stopped me from following what i felt was my purpose; my calling.  my mom said my first sentence was, "i do it myself!"  and so i did.

as i reflect on the past 7 glorious yet not-so-glam years as an entrepreneur, consider this my gift to anyone who ever even toyed with the notion of starting a business. note: this is not intended to frustrate aspiring entrepreneurs or to even come across as though i'm not grateful, because i am. (very). but rather, this is meant to shed some light on the truth behind what it really takes.  think of it this way:

  • what is the one thing couples say at their 50th wedding anniversary?  or what do sleep-deprived, yet utterly fulfilled parents of a newborn baby tell their friends?  "it's the hardest thing we've ever done - and yet so worth it."
  • or for the single, yet-to-be-parents crowd like yours truly, maybe this will resonate: have you ever been telling the story of a really gnarly crash or injury and you go to show your scar or bruise and it's just not quite impressive enough to get the reaction you were hoping for? so you start to elaborate, in an attempt to justify your war wound; to validate your pain.

consider this me sharing my entrepreneurial scars or my beautifully-earned bruises that have made the triumphs even that much sweeter. so without further ado, my 7.5 not-so-glam lessons from yours truly.

"opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."  ~thomas edison

1. it's hard (hard) work.
if you want to start a business because you can work whenever you want, set your own hours, and be your own boss...don't. that's the mythical, textbook version of entrepreneurship. the truth is, while you can work whenever you want, that means you will put in way more hours than you ever expected. you'll work into the wee hours of the morning/night; in fact the two often blur together. yes, you can absolutely vacation on a whim, but know that you can never completely check out. you want to be your own boss so you don't have to answer to anyone? try again. your customers are your boss; your employees, your vendors, your partners - they all look to you for answers. so if it's independence you're wanting, be a consultant or an employee - not a business owner.

2. passion is overrated.
am i passionate about what i do? absolutely. but is passion enough to keep me going? absolutely not. if you love something and think that's enough of a reason to start a business, i would tell you to just keep enjoying it as a hobby. because odds are, if you make a living out of it, sometimes the very thing you loved will become "work." not fun. so you have to have something much deeper; much more meaningful than just passion. whatever it is that drives you mustn't just be something you want to do; but something that you can't not do. [author's note: that was intended to confuse you; re-read the prior statement for absolute understanding of this intentional double-negative.]

3. prepare to be rejected - a lot.
don't be fooled by all the positive posts about the successes; with every WIN, comes about 100 rejections. don't be impressed by big names like target, walgreens, and amazon. yes, they're wonderful. but did you know i've also been rejected by companies equally as big; that i landed deals only to have them fall apart at the last minute?  a dear friend (and fellow entrepreneur) was commiserating with me one day and he stated, "entrepreneurs are some of the most insecure people; we always have something to prove." ouch. so true. guilty as charged. but i'll take it. see i may be soft-hearted with people, but when it comes to business, i'm tough as nails. you tell me "no" and it's "challenge accepted." my advice: bounce back, keep going.  

"timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success." ~biz stone, twitter co-founder

4. you will get your heart broken.
my heart has been broken (many) times with the hopes of something that never came to be. from that i learned to not celebrate the wins (or fret my failures) too early or often.  prepare for the moment when your brand (your baby) is knocked off and you sit on a shelf in a store, crying. they say imitation is the best form of flattery. i'd rather not be flattered. there will be loss. there will be failure. there will be copycats. do not let any of those win the battle. choose to let those drive you; let them be the fire that fuels you to prevail.

5. check your ego at the door.
i didn't pay myself for two years. there were months were i would skip my paycheck just to make payroll. conserve cash like a maniac. cashflow is the absolute toughest thing you'll face when starting a business. you want to know why i drive a kia (other than because i love it)? because i put my business first; not my ego. often times the best thing for your business isn't always what's on-trend or popular. this isn't high school; this is business. hands down, the most valuable lessons i've learned in my business were also the most costly. the reason we've been profitable for 7 years isn't because i'm brilliant (because i'm not); it's because i always (always) put the business' best interest before my own. i may not be sportin' around town in a red ferarri, but i take care of my team, pay my bills on time, and invest in the future rather than lavish in the cash.

6. prepare to be misunderstood.
be prepared to accept love and support from the most random, kind people; and be equally prepared to feel isolated and alone when those closest to you aren't as happy for you as you'd hoped. often times friends and family won't understand why you work the hours you do; or why you can't hang out on the weekend; or in my case, i think it took 5 years for anyone to even know what i did! (in their defense, i didn't either.)  hold your head high; surround yourself with those who lift you up. just don't be surprised when it's not at all who you'd expected or hoped it would be.

7. (finally) savor the wins.
if you're doing what you're truly meant to do, you'll find that the joy increases over time, not decreases. it's easy to be giddy when you land your first deal. but after 3 years? 5? 7 years? i've found they mean even more as time goes on because with each passing year, i've put even that much more of my heart and soul into achieving that next level of success. if you burn out (which you inevitably will), take a step back.  you're going to want to quit. you will want to give up. you will cry. like a small child. in the fetal position. all the things i don't post on facebook? yeah, those are the things that make me appreciate the good times so much more.

"never get too big for your britches." ~momma

7.5 it's not about you.
(i'm only taking credit for 1/2 of this last one because, well it's not about me.) 
never take the credit - give it. without an amazing team to bring your vision to life, supportive vendors and partners, and loyal customers who spend their hard-earned money to buy your product/service, you won't go anywhere. and if you think you can do it on your own without God's good grace, good luck. i've found that about the time you get start to get too confident, low and behold, business (and life) will humble you mighty quickly. it's tough out there. take the time to help others who might want to follow in your path, because if you really think about it, someone along the way did the same thing for you.

if after reading this you still want to undergo this adventure, you're one of two things: either stupidly optimistic or brilliant. or both. in my experience, it takes a bit of each of those aforementioned traits to amount to anything in this life.  this coming from someone who hasn't "made it," but someone who has braved the 'trepping trenches and still (without a doubt) wouldn't rather be doing anything else. it's a labor of love; and we're still happily wedded after these rocky but rewarding 7 years.

happy birthday, fitbook.

with nothin' but love,
your sleep-deprived + fully fulfilled chief fitlosopher

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