Are You Cut Out To Be An Entrepreneur?

01 February, 2019

By S&S Associates (India)

It’s a question that arises in the mind of many, if not most, professionals in their mid to late thirties. You’re at the peak of your prowess, the initial excitement of corporate life has worn off, and you start wondering what life out of harness would be like. If you are among those who have been bitten by this bug, here’s a set of nine questions for you that I’ve put together based on my own
experiences as well as those of other professionals-turned-entrepreneurs I’ve observed closely.

1. What’s your motivation?
What’s prompting you to examine entrepreneurship in the first place? Do you have a big idea you’re bursting to bring to life? Do you believe that you would be better off using your talents and skills for your own benefit instead of somebody else’s? Are you looking to take control of your own fate? Does the idea of being on your own give you a rush? Or are you fed up of the rat race, beginning to doubt whether you can make it to the top, feeling used and abused, wishing you could get away from it all?

Sometimes it can be a combination of both sets of feelings described above; but if it’s largely the latter, what you probably need is a break from your current routine – a holiday, a sabbatical, or a change in job – rather than the leap into the unknown that entrepreneurship involves. Remember, many a 50-year-old CEO is simply somebody who had the patience and maturity to see it through!

2. What’s your financial situation?
By the mid to late thirties, most of us have put aside some sort of a nest egg; so the question really is, is it enough? A good ballpark to check would be if, after catering for the investment you need to put in, you have enough between you and your spouse to sustain your current lifestyle (or a lifestyle acceptable to you and your family) for 18-24 months without generating any income from the new venture – unless, of course, you have a well-funded start-up that will allow you a salary from Day 1!

Most start-ups have uncertain revenue streams in the initial stages, so while the notion of throwing it all in may get your adrenalin pumping, it’s generally advisable to have some sort of a safety net. You need to have the staying power to see things through for a reasonable period of time.

3. What’s your (and your spouse’s) appetite for uncertainty?
Most of us are used to a certain level of risk and uncertainty in our corporate lives, but believe me, entrepreneurship multiplies that level by at least 10X, if not more. So if you’re the kind of person who loves playing with fire, jump right in. If not, take some time to assess how you respond to uncertainty.

One simple starting point is: how comfortable are you with the idea of not having a regular salary cheque? If the answer is just a little uncomfortable, you’re OK. If it makes you break out in a sweat, entrepreneurship is not for you. If you’re totally comfortable, entrepreneurship is probably not for you either – you need a little hunger to succeed! Obviously, you need to look beyond this. 

How comfortable are you with amorphous situations? How do you handle unstructured problems? How do you deal with nebulous relationships? What stresses you out? It’s also extremely important that your family – more specifically your spouse – is on the same page. It’s hard enough taking on the world on your own without having to take on the person closest to you as well.

4. Are you a self-starter?
This is a no-brainer when it comes to an interview situation but be honest with yourself; because without a liberal dose of this quality, you could possibly succeed as a manager but you can never succeed as an entrepreneur.

So, when was the last time you did something that your job didn’t absolutely require you to do? How pro-active are you generally? How often do you take on responsibility that you don’t really have to? How often do you need external stimuli (praise, promotion, salary raises) to keep your belief in yourself going? Would you get up on time (whatever time you set yourself) every day if you didn’t have to go to work?

If you don’t have a satisfactory answer to these questions, don’t even go on to the next ones because you’ve already ruled yourself out of the entrepreneurship stakes.

5. What’s your EQ?
Make no mistake, entrepreneurship is a roller-coaster ride; and in the initial years you will experience many more downs than ups. Your ability to take the punches, to read and lead people, and to keep a steady ship will be tested to the full. In this journey, your EQ level will make a huge difference.

If you’re not a high-EQ person yourself, you will need somebody by your side who is – a partner, a trusted employee, a confidante who can guide you… anyone who can help you keep your balance when things get rough.

6. How hands-on are you?
One comfort we all get used to by the time we hit middle management is having a team to do our bidding. And if we’ve worked in large, structured organisations, they are generally teams of trained professionals who will do what they need to without too much supervision or interference; in fact, we are taught to let go when we delegate. Entrepreneurship, particularly in the early stages, may require a slightly different approach, a far more hands-on one.

Often, it’s the little things that count the most in early success, the seemingly trivial things we’ve been taught to take for granted. And it’s these little things that can trip us up. Things like which courier was used for the delivery. Or whether the follow-up call was made or not. Or even whether somebody’s ordered a cab for the meeting!

Execution is the key to early success in a start-up venture. So as CEO, you need to make sure everything that matters is on your radar. Or have a partner who does.

7. Are you an optimist?
I have never come across a successful entrepreneur who wasn’t an optimist. Not necessarily the kind who views the world through rosy-hued glasses but the kind who has an unshakeable conviction that what he/ she is doing is worthwhile and will ultimately succeed.

Being successful in life requires determination and perseverance. This is even more true in an entrepreneurial venture. You need to have at least a little bit of the bulldog quality of keeping at it, no matter what.

The ability to deal with rejection, to treat failure as a stepping stone rather than a boulder in one’s path, to look for solutions rather than get weighed down with the problems that come – all this requires an innate optimism that somewhere at the end of the tunnel there is a startlingly bright future.

8. How paranoid are you?
An entrepreneur needs to walk a fine line between trust and paranoia. Murphy’s law applies to every early-stage company; so you need to be constantly alert to what could go wrong, and pre-empt it. Many an entrepreneurial disaster has been averted simply because the person in charge had his (or her) antennae tingling to some imagined scenario.

If this seems contradictory to the earlier point about being an optimist, let me assure you it actually isn’t. It’s simply about tempering one’s optimism with foresight, a healthy dose of anticipating possible outcomes and taking steps to ensure that the negative ones are eliminated.

So, while full-blown paranoia may not be advisable, it does help to be just a little paranoid…

9. Do you have a springboard?
A springboard could be anything that helps you get off to a good start in your entrepreneurial venture. A nice fat funding agreement is always a good start, of course. Or it could be a committed customer who will give your business a head start. A strong team. A novel business idea with a competitive moat. An unmatched skill set. The strength of your networks.

While a springboard isn’t absolutely essential, it’s something that can give you the confidence to take the plunge – you know what they say about beginning well…

If after asking yourself these questions, you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve got what it takes to be an entrepreneur, go right ahead; there’s nothing quite like it. If not, then get back to your job with renewed vigour, you’re in the right place already!

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