On Entrepreneurship

A few weeks ago, I received this message from a friend: “I see you have put the idea of being an entrepreneur on the back burner to become a coder…”

..and from some conversations with a few other people I get the sense that there might be this perception that I’ve given up on my grand plans to become an entrepreneur, instead settling into the comfortable lifestyle of having a good job in the software industry.

In spring last year when I was constantly being asked why I decided to turn down the banking job, my response was always along the lines of: “I’ve decided that the job wasn’t for me – I’m going down an entrepreneurial route!” I was excited about the potential possibilities open to me but I didn’t have a plan. Having been preparing for a career in banking for over 7 years, this lack of a plan was initially extremely liberating. There were times however when the feeling of freedom would subside into a slight anxiety – what was I actually going to do now?

Though I always had some ideas swimming around in my mind, there was never anything that really grabbed at me. I’ve also had a few opportunities over the last year to work with others on their ideas, but again I haven’t been genuinely excited. I remember how thrilling it felt starting up The StoryGraph and I want to feel that again but on a bigger scale. If I wanted to do entrepreneurship for entrepreneurship’s sake then I could have started something already. I see a lot of cases where founders are working on an idea that they think is ‘kinda cool’ but maybe they themselves do not have enough faith in it. They’re going through the motions because they like the idea of working for themselves and starting up but they just haven’t got the right idea yet or perhaps the entrepreneurial life isn’t for them. I want what I work on to mean something to me as that’s where I think the real value and excitement in entrepreneurship stems from. Whilst failure might be more painful, success will be many times more special.

I recently came across this short clip featuring Phil Libin, founder of Evernote. It’s only a minute long and in it he stresses the point of only working on ‘sufficiently epic’ ideas. Whatever you work on will take up a significant amount of your life so why work on anything less than epic? The key takeaway from the talk for me was ‘don’t work on it if it’s not worth your life’. I learnt many things at Makers Academy, including lots of advice on starting up from Rob, one of the co-founders. In an earlier post I briefly mentioned when he urged those of us interested in starting our ventures to find out why exactly we wanted to do it and then work out how we worked best. When you’ve figured out these two things, the ‘what’ phase of ideation comes more naturally. When I think about why it is I want to start up I do have reasons but they need greater refinement and focus.

I recently had conversation with someone who runs a top startup accelerator and asked them why it was that there weren’t many women committing to the programme. The general conclusion of the response was that women tend to be more afraid of the risk involved in starting your own company whereas men seem to have embraced the high-level uncertainty and just get on with it. I don’t know how much truth is in this but for one thing I know I’m not scared of it. Rather, I know I’m not ready just yet. So rather than rushing into something for the sake of it, I’m developing technical skills that will be extremely valuable to me in the future for a variety of reasons. I’m working closely with startups in my job, learning more about the ins and outs of running your own company, I’m learning more about myself, my motivations and my ambitions, and I’m waiting for my sufficiently epic idea.

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2 thoughts on “On Entrepreneurship

  1. Firstly I am glad that my words inspired you to pen this piece but having worked with many entrepreneurs in the past I want to leave you with a thought. I do not believe you should give up on your technical skills gathering as it will stand you in good stead for the future and I do not believe any successful entrepreneur “waits” for the right idea. I fact mostly they have so many money making ideas it usually takes someone with a little common sense to slow them down and not work on all of them at once. I know you have many ideas so why not write them all down and put together a high level plan as to how they will work in practice, how you will make money from them, what exit plans you would need to put in place, how much you would need to fund them and where the funds would come from. Maybe this will help you identify which idea deserves your passion above all others (for the moment) and give you a drive you seem to be lacking right now. Of course you may already be doing this and I am “teaching my grandma to suck eggs”? Dxxxx

    • Thanks for the comment, David. When I use the word ‘wait’ at the end it implies I’m being more passive than I am. Like I say, I do have ideas and it’s not a lack of drive, but rather me also trying to prioritise what’s right for me now. Also, you can have ideas that will make you some money but they are not necessarily ideas you want to work on!

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