The argument over what defines someone as an entrepreneur is one of the great debates of the major startup scenes. Some say that entrepreneurship is trait that an individual is born with, while others contend that it is something that can be taught, and the remainder might choose a combination.
While there may never be a definitive answer on the definition of an entrepreneur, according to Justin Zhu, co-founder the startup Iterable, it is a good time to give it a shot.
“Nobody is ever perfectly ready for anything,” Zhu said. “But, I think if you’re passionate about an idea, and you’re committed, I think it’s a good time to do it. I think there’s a lot of opportunity, especially today.”
Zhu left his day job at Twitter to strike out on his own as an entrepreneur and his story is one that many in corporate America dream of. But, leaving your daily gig to become your own boss is a scary thing. Here are five signs that you might be ready to take the leap.
1. You have an idea
This may seem blatantly obvious but, often, the idea behind a startup is not thought through as deeply as it needs to be. Too many wannabe founders set out to start a company in a predefined space, with the goal of being their own boss. Your goal should not be to work for yourself, your goal should be to solve a problem.
“I didn’t start Unikey because I wanted to start a company, I started Unikey because I had an idea. I thought we could build something pretty cool. So, I think you really need to have an idea, and some experience on executing that idea, and then you start a company. You don’t start a company and then figure out what you’re going to do,” said Phil Dumas, president at Unikey Technologies.
This idea has to be a part of you. It cannot merely be something you have put a little bit of thought to, it has to be something that consumes you and something you have stewed over. You must have considered every facet of this idea and all of its potential outcomes. People don’t get excited about a business because it’s a business, they get excited about the idea behind a business.
“It’s not enough to have just a thought of what a product should be. I think you really need to put it down on paper and have a great sense of what you want to build. After that yes, you can hire people and they can help you along the way,” Adam Mashaal, creator of Mashfeed, said. Adding, “At the end of the day when you are building a company you are selling a product. What really creates a successful business is the proper execution of a good idea.”
So, you need to have an idea that you have developed as fully as possible. Once you have that idea, you have to determine whether or not there is a market for it.
2. There is a market for your idea
Most good business ideas begin by addressing a problem or pain point within an industry. Your idea may undoubtedly solve a problem, but the question you must ask yourself is whether or not that problem is worth solving. Something that is a major problem to you, may be a minor inconvenience to the rest of the world.
Kraig Swensrud left his job as CMO of Salesforce to start his company GetFeedback.com. He saw the need for his product while working for Salesforce and was able to determine a pain point that he could address with his company.
“I think that’s something that is really critical for folks before they leave their 9-to-5 and venture out on their own is to really validate the need within the market for the product or service they are going to be creating,” Swensrud said. “Validate that what you’re going to be doing is of interest, and that people will pay for the product or service that you’re going to be creating, before you leave the comforts of a great company and venture out on your own.”
If you do not currently work in the industry you are addressing, there are other ways to validate the market. urBin Storage co-founder Joshua Ernst recommends you start by asking the people around you. Talk to your friends, your family, and your colleagues (if you are comfortable) and ask them if they would purchase your product or service.
Remember, just because there is a pain point doesn’t mean there is a need. Check out any potential competition to make sure that you aren’t entering an overly crowded market. Once you have determined that there is a need, you should work on developing a plan. Meet with your startup friends and see how it’s been done before.
“Make sure the strategy or the thought, the process, the plan has been vetted somewhat,” Ernst said.
3. Your passion is in check
Inspiration and passion are what fuel successful founders. Excitement and the novelty of a new lifestyle are often misinterpreted as passion, and that doesn’t bode well for new founders. You have to be ready to eat, sleep, and breathe this company because it will take all that you have to make it work.
“You as an individual have to be completely passionate about pursuing that venture. It can’t just be something that’s interesting, or something that you think you can make a little money at. You’re going to be putting your blood, sweat, and tears into this new venture. And, as an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to really do just about everything that it takes to get a company off the ground,” Swensrud said.
It is one thing to say that you are willing to give 100% for the success of your company, and it is something else entirely to live in such a way that proves that to be true. It will require a shift in the way you think and you must have courage to see it through. While these things will help you along the journey, it starts with having realistic expectations.
4. You have realistic expectations
There is no way you can prepare for everything that entrepreneurship will throw at you. But, you can work toward an understanding of what a startup lifestyle will be like. Although this may sound counterintuitive, you must prepare yourself for the chaos.
“You’re at the top, so you ride the highs and you ride the lows; and you have to be ready to do that,” Dumas said.
The rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship can bring along a feeling of instability that most people are not prepared for. When it’s good, it will be really god; but when it’s bad, it will be terrible. If you are going to weather the storm, you have to begin to divorce your sense of self from your idea. While you, as the entrepreneur, are the most important piece of the puzzle, you should try to see your business as a separate entity that you are devoting your energy to bring to life.
A successful founder must be able to make decisions that are best for the business. You must be able to do what is best for the customer, not just what makes you happy. You can’t see every failure or criticism of you business as a failure or criticism of you. You have a limited amount of energy and you can’t waste it on worrying about what people think of you.
Something else you should expect is a change in workflow. The amount of hours you work will look different for each company, but you have to come to this with an understanding that your patterns and your habits are going to change. Your focus will begin to center on your startup and it will seem like the only thing that matters.
While work isn’t everything, Ernst said, “It becomes everything when you’re an entrepreneur.” Adding, “The biggest advice would be for each individual to analyze whether or not they want work to become all-encompassing and they’re excited about that challenge.”
If you can, try to minimize the amount of instability in your life outside of your startup. It will be easier to deal with chaos brought on by entrepreneurship if there is less to worry about in your daily life. For example, Dumas didn’t leave his job and start his company until he had enough money saved up to forgo a paycheck for two years.
“For me personally, especially being an engineer, everything is about calculated risk,” Dumas said about his first opportunity he had to launch. “And, I didn’t feel like I had the financial means to really go off on my own yet. The economics just didn’t make sense. I think a lot of people figure out that they can’t afford to be entrepreneurs when it’s too late.”
5. Your aren’t fulfilled at your day job
Fulfillment is a subjective experience, so this will be the most difficult sign to read. Zhu recommends this simple test: “A simple gauge is when you wake up in the morning, are you excited to go to work,” he said. For Zhu, the excitement waned when he stopped learning.
“It got to a point where I wasn’t really learning at work. I felt that I was basically learning 5-10% of the time, and the other 90% just going through the motions, doing things I already knew. So, the pace of learning really slowed down,” Zhu said.
Typically this lack of fulfillment is a chronic issue, and you may have even felt the same way at a previous company. Lack of fulfillment and lack of excitement are two different things, so you shouldn’t view entrepreneurship as a way to simply “spice up” your professional life.
“I would caution people to, not necessarily, jump into it because it’s exciting and it’s buzzworthy if you are fulfilled in your current role and you are satisfied,” Ernst said.
Most of the time, if you are even considering starting your own company, entrepreneurship is something you have been thinking of for a long time. These signs do not comprise the full list of everything you need to understand before you become an entrepreneur, because that list looks different for each person. But, if it captivates your thoughts it might be something to consider.
“If you are continually dreaming of new ideas and better products that are not already out there, and there’s a certain part of you that can’t give up the dream of creating something on your own, then there’s no reason that you shouldn’t take the steps necessary to make it a reality,” Mashaal said.