I wrote an article about finding out “how to figure out if entrepreneurship is for you” because a lot of people ask me that. In fact, just Google it, and about 4 million articles pop up.
I understand why people ask this. It’s a seemingly innocuous and completely valid question.
But there’s a simple problem:
The question is completely misleading. And frankly, I fear for those who ask this question, because most of the answers I’ve seen are complete crap and could easily guide people into making terrible decisions for themselves. Allow me to explain:
Let’s take a poll, shall we?
As I mentioned above, I Googled “how to figure out if entrepreneurship is for you”, and I picked one of the articles at random. This one-pager boils down the question of entrepreneurship to a few key points. For example:
- are you “unfazed” by risk?
- Are you a “decision maker”?
- Is it your “dream business” and your “passion”?
There’s one small problem:
Who the hell cares?
So if you just answer “yes” to all of those questions, it’s your golden pass to startup success?
“Yes, I’m a decision maker!” Great work Skip, that means you’re entrepreneurship material!
Oh, and you’re passionate about starting your dream business? I’m pretty sure literally everybody is “passionate” about starting their “dream business”…but why is it that only some small fraction of people are actually able to do so successfully?
Talk about taking a complex issue and boiling it down to the useless.
In my more excitable, pre-entrepreneurship days, I would have answered an emphatic “YES!” to all of the questions mentioned above. Little did I know that my answer there had 0 impact in my ability to succeed–or fail–in entrepreneurship.
Just because I was a decision maker didn’t mean I always made good decisions. Just because I had a passion didn’t mean other people cared enough to pay me money for it. Just because I was “unfazed” by risk doesn’t mean things didn’t go terribly wrong at times.
You don’t need me to tell you that the world exists in shades of grey. But why would you try to figure out if you “should be an entrepreneur” by answering questions like that?
As a sidenote:
Oddly, I’ve seen plenty of people who are successful at startups who don’t seem to fit this puffed- up “Type-A entrepreneur” archetype implied in the article I mentioned above. For example, a friend of mine who I studied abroad in China with has a successful online store selling crafts…but if you get to know her, you realize that she’s just a normal, sweet person. I imagine she would have “failed” the test posited in the article above, but somehow she’s more successful at making money online than 98% of people will ever be…
Why I am picking on this article and its ilk
Simple: bad advice is worse than no advice. I would rather you take no action than to try to start a business based off ineffective criteria, and then find yourself in a serious pickle.
The real answer to this question lies in intimately understanding what entrepreneurs actually do, and seeing if you want to do those things too.
Here’s what worked for me-
1. Try entrepreneurship on a small scale instead of just speculating about it.
In my article 5 things you can do to be an entrepreneur right now, I pointed out that there’s tons of things you can do now to start embracing entrepreneurship namely: 1.) set goals, 2.) read and learn from the startup greats, 3.) asking 10 people what their problem is, 4.) building ideas around those problems, and 5.) asking people if they would pay for your idea.
Dive head-first into this exercise. Just start on a small scale: get some alone time in between classes or during lunch and brainstorm some business ideas and set a plan to get business idea feedback. Give yourself a few weeks to solicit feedback and refine your idea.
After you’re done…
…did you like doing that? Going up and talking to people? Validating business ideas? Constructing business models?
I imagine you’ll not only learn more about yourself in your 3 weeks of doing this than you learned in the last year, you’ll also be able to say “entrepreneurs do A, I did A, and I know I should / shouldn’t be an entrepreneur because I tried to do it myself”.
2. Go figure out what entrepreneurs in your field of interest actually do, and see if you like doing those things (and if you can do those things).
Let’s say your business of choice is web development. Go out and talk to some freelance web developers. Ask, “what do you do?”…”how do you make money (get clients)?”
The goal here is to see not only what the specific craft needed is (in this case, web development), but also how the business is built (where do the customers come from?).
Talk with 3 to 5 of these people, and voraciously take notes.
I imagine you’ll come to this conclusion: “there’s some things about this I love, there’s some things I’m iffy on or don’t like at all, and there’s some things that I don’t currently possess enough talent to do on my own.”
Make a chart of those things by category.
3. Make a decision based on your research.
So, for example, you interview a few web developers, and you conclude that they do a lot of programming (duh) (this is the part you like)…but they also have to attend a lot of courses on web development (you like this), they have to do a lot of sales (you don’t like this) and presentations (you loathe presentations), and they have to be good at customer support (you aren’t very good at this).
Now that you essentially know what’s involved in this entrepreneurial venture, what are you going to do?
Thinking about things in specific terms is 500x better than just asking stupid, broad questions.
In the comments below, tell me how you’ve been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to pursue entrepreneurship.