I am the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Founders Portal Inc. We are a full-service advisory firm for founders, startups and investors.
Founding a company is hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t done it. Most people don’t understand the devotion, passion and commitment required to convert what existed only in your mind into a tangible reality. In fact, many people think you don’t really do anything.
I can remember numerous instances when family and friends would reach out to me during a work day and say, “Hey, want to go for lunch?” and would be in utter shock when I said I was too busy. Yet, no one questions when someone goes to work and is unavailable. I think a lot of this has to do with what we are exposed to on a daily basis. People go on TV shows like Shark Tank and only present their successes, making it easy to fall into the trap of believing that someone woke up with an idea and became rich the next day.
I’ll admit: I felt the same way before I became an entrepreneur. I invented my technology and thought I’d be bombarded with multimillion-dollar offers to purchase the technology instantaneously. Like every founder, I realized this was not to be when people inevitably interrogated me on every facet of not only the idea but how I planned to build a company around it, develop it, launch it and then scale it. How was I to know what to do? All I had was an idea coupled with youthful exuberance and naiveté.
And so it began. I was an entrepreneur. Where was the instruction manual? How could I find out which steps I needed to take to get from Point A to Point Z? Days upon days of reading online how-to guides and memoirs of successful entrepreneurs ended up making me more confused than knowledgeable.
Below are three problems I realized about the entrepreneurship landscape and my proposed solutions for each:
How-to guides are generic and obscure.
It might just be me, but someone telling me to believe in myself and set goals really isn’t helping me convert my ideas into reality. In fact, it’s more irritating than anything else because there is almost a perception that the author considers you unable to understand basic concepts such as self-confidence and goal-setting.
One of the issues that lead to these generic platitudes is the sheer diversity of potential businesses, sectors, technologies, inventions and services. This is exacerbated further for new-to-the-world products/services where there is no reference point whatsoever. Because of all the diversity, it becomes impossible to comprehensively write a clear instruction manual for entrepreneurship that would help guide founders on their journey.
Solution: Founders need customized, special guidance to help them convert their ideas into a reality, as opposed to generic how-to guides. Mentors can be an excellent resource and, for more specialized purposes or specific needs, look to a good business coach. Business coaches can help founders identify issues that they are unable to see due to being so proximal to and emotionally attached to their own ventures. In addition, coaches can help implement effective coping strategies for stress, personal empowerment and work-life balance, among other things.
Society puts too much emphasis on the outcome and not the journey.
As in programs like Shark Tank, our focus as a society is to simply jump to the conclusion. It’s like watching the first five minutes of a movie and then skipping to the end or reading the first few pages of a book and then the final chapter. The messages and lessons in a film or book are in the journeys they describe.
Likewise, the messages and lessons from an entrepreneurial journey cannot be found solely by focusing on the beginning and the end. Simply saying that Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook to connect people and it now has over 1 billion users and a multibillion-dollar market value does not explain what he did or how he did it.
Solution: Society needs to encourage storytelling from founders to share journeys and not just introduction-conclusion sequences. My assumption is that this is difficult for most people because no one wants to admit a flaw about themselves or their ventures. There needs to be an anonymous online journal community where founders can chronicle their experiences confidentially and without fear of repercussions from investors, partners or other stakeholders. This would then serve as a database of knowledge for prospective and current founders to understand that their struggles are shared by others and learn from their lessons.
Difficulties, hardships and failures are hidden.
No one likes to admit they felt weak, made 100 mistakes or failed to satisfy their first 20 customers. Much of this is the way we are hardwired as individuals. You don’t go on a date and start listing your deficiencies to the other person, just like you don’t go on a job interview and discuss how you got laid off from your last job. While this is a good tactic to help you save face, it hinders the knowledge transfer process that might simplify the next person’s journey.
Solution: Founders need to embrace the challenges they’ve faced and openly share them with society. If these solutions can be implemented, we will have higher rates of success for new founders as well as realistic interpretations of entrepreneurship. We cannot jeopardize a whole generation by giving them false dreams and unrealistic expectations about what may be the most important decision of their lives. We need to make sure they are informed, supported and guided to make the best decision for their own best interests.
My entrepreneurial journey started seven years ago, and I wish I could say the above three problems have been resolved, but they have only been intensified. Entrepreneurship is presented as glamorous, simple and an easy way to get rich and famous. We need to fix this because that’s simply not true.