My Mother used to tell me “come back home to the US and get your MBA and get a stable job”. That was before she started working for my company. Now that she works for me and she knows I’m going through a stressful time she says “I don’t know how you do it”. My Mother’s parents (my grandparents) were career entrepreneurs and were able to provide their family with an upper middle class lifestyle as a result of their small interior decoration business. However, my grandparents and my Mother were against me doing business because they felt that with my Berkeley education that I should get a law degree or an MBA and live a comfortable life without the stresses of business. At the time I didn’t understand their opposition to me doing business. I figured that if I worked hard I would be a multimillionaire by the time I was 30 and I really thought it was that easy. It wasn’t until I was in business for many years that I understood what my Grandparents and Mother were talking about, and I also learned that my Grandparents almost went out of business several times, they had to endure lawsuits, and disgruntled employees.
I was thinking about business the other day and I was thinking about the reasons that I have decided to continue to do business, and the reasons people think I and other entrepreneurs do business, but actually aren’t true.
I’ll start with the misconceptions that people have about what motivates entrepreneurs. In fact I even shared most of these misconceptions when I first started doing business.
#1 – Entrepreneurs do business for the money. I read a post on a LinkedIn board recently and someone wrote “doing business is probably one of the worst ways in the world to accumulate wealth”. This statement is actually incredibly true. The best way to accumulate wealth is to get good grades in high school, go to an excellent university, go to an excellent MBA, Law or Medical program, do a great job as an executive, lawyer or doctor and then get a financial advisor to help you make low risks investments. This is an almost guaranteed way to live a very comfortable life. The other two ways to make a lot of money is to either be born into money or marry into money.
Sure there are intangibles in this sort of plan, but there are far more intangibles in trying to start a successful business. You could be a genius and have brilliant ideas but the market just might not be ready for your ideas. The annals of history are riddled with entrepreneurs that have come up with innovative ideas that were later turned into billion dollar industries years later, and the entrepreneur with the original idea received virtually nothing for their idea and hard work. As an entrepreneur obtaining the right amount of capital to make your idea a success is always a challenge. Unless you are extremely well connected entrepreneurs are often stifled by the fact that they don’t have enough capital to properly execute their ideas which also leaves them vulnerable to more well connected entrepreneurs or larger corporations capitalizing on their business idea. There are also changes in the market that an entrepreneur absolutely cannot control which can completely wipe an entrepreneur out such as a financial recession, a natural disaster, a large competitor entering the market, or a sudden increase in the price of commodities. Then there are other unexpected occurrences that can destroy an entrepreneur such as a lawsuit, or making a wrong business decision that bankrupts you.
It is true that if you want to become very wealthy then there is a level of wealth that is virtually out of reach for almost all executives, lawyers and doctors. Look at the Forbes billionaire list and besides people that made their money through inheritance or marriage, I don’t think there is one person on that list that is not an entrepreneur. However, this is a statistical aberration. Doing business is not the best way to accumulate wealth.
#2 – Doing Business For Freedom – Someone once told me “when you do business you have the freedom to work 24 hours a day 7 days a week”. I work all the time, nights andweekends. In fact in the past 6 years I don’t think I have ever taken an entire weekend off, and I don’t even remember the last time where I didn’t work at least a few hours on Sunday. Most entrepreneurs feel bad even after working an 18 hour day, because they still feel like there is something that still is waiting to be completed.
#3 – Doing Business for Stability – I think a lot of people do business or want to do business because they think its more stable than working for someone else. However, I think its much easier to find a new job than to continue to run a profitable business. As I mentioned in #1 there are so many variables outside of your control when doing business that business is anything but stable. If you want stability be a lawyer, doctor, executive, teacher, police officer, but don’t do business.
So if business is not the way to earn money, freedom and stability then why do I do business? In no particular order here are my answers.
#1 – Creating Something That Is Your Own – If you do business you have the opportunity to create something that represents your passions, your values, your lifestyle and your creativity. For me my company is my canvas and it allows me to express myself. I often times feel that I should be much more successful, and I give myself pressure and tell myself that I have not accomplished enough, and must accomplish much more to be satisfied. However, I also have deep pride in the fact that I created a business that now directly employs over 40 people in the United States, China, and the Philippines and indirectly employs over one hundred more people. I created this business with my own hands and nobody can take that fact away from me. This company represents my ideas, my understanding of the world and my hard work. What even excites me more is that if I can grow my company more, then my ideas will have an even greater impact on the world.
#2 – I Don’t Think I Would Do Well In A Corporate Environment – I think I would definitely succeed in a corporate environment to an extent, but I am well aware that I don’t have the charisma nor the family background to succeed in a corporate environment. I’d be unhappy trying and I wouldn’t succeed in reaching the upper stratus of corporate success. So why try? I’m a maverick so I’d rather go in alone, because I believe I have a better chance at success depending upon myself rather than depending upon my ability to meet other’s approval.
#3 – Making My Own Schedule – This should not be confused with having free time. As I mentioned I work virtually everyday and I work a minimum of 12 hours a day. However, the other day I worked until 2AM, I felt tired so I slept until 12PM. I walked into the office at 1PM on my own terms without worrying what anyone would say. I’m a creative person and I appreciate the ability to set my own hours without the confines of a 9 to 5.
#4 – It’s Allowed Me To Live a Cool Lifestyle – I am a real believer in not starting a business that your not passionate about. My business has given me the amazing opportunity to make a living outside of the United States. Although I love America, and do plan on moving back to the US in the future, its an amazing opportunity to actually be able to live in China and the Philippines, especially considering that rapid growth and history that is being made in China and really all of Asia. I also enjoy the products that we make. I enjoy looking at our customer’s designs and apparel orders, and I enjoy going to the factories and watching the entire manufacturing process.
#5 – In Business You Grow So Much As A Person – I basically become a new person every year because I learn so much every year. When I look back at my emails and notes from two years ago I can’t even believe that it was me because I have grown so much as a business person. Of course people grow in every job, but business is so life or death that you are forced to mature at an accelerated rate or you won’t survive. You have to constantly question how you can improve because the stakes are so high, and I think there are very few positions in the world that have such high stakes and require such constant reassessment.
#6 – Business Allows You To Give Back To The World – Most people don’t view entrepreneurialism as being a humanitarian pursuit because most people associate humanitarianism as not having a profit motive. For starters I am very proud of the fact that I was able to employ my Mother whom was working a job that she hated and caused her a lot of stress. My Mother is able to make more money in my company, she likes her job, and as she said “the commute is great” (she works from home). There is also satisfaction in employing over 40 people and indirectly employing more than 100 people. People are able to take care of their families because of me, and even more gratifying is seeing people professionally grow in my company. One young lady in my company went from having never worked in an office environment to becoming our Admin Manager, and its amazing how much she has grown in 3 years.
#7 – The More You Do Business The Easier And More Fun It Gets – I think this is true for most things that people enjoy doing. In the first 4 years of doing business it was really really difficult to do everything, because it was usually the first time I was doing something. I made a lot of mistakes, and I was miserable most of the time. However, the longer you do business the better you get. Which means that its easier to handle problems, you don’t get stressed out as much, and you find yourself having fun finding solutions to your problems.
Entrepreneurship has serious ups and downs and I think to be a lifetime entrepreneur you have to be a bit crazy to continue to endure the instability of it all. If you decide to be a business person I think the only thing that can keep you going is a true joy for doing business and because you believe in what you are doing.