An entrepreneur’s message for family, friends and supporters
Every so often, an aspiring entrepreneur reaches out to ask for advice.
Last week I met with a young man called Mark, who contacted me on LinkedIn. He was passing through New York and heard I was here. Mark had a great start-up idea and a well-formulated plan he'd been working on for a year. He'd found a technical co-founder and had done the competitor analysis. He came to me to ask what to do next.
'That's an easy one' I said. 'Just start.'
Mark then explained as well as spending almost every waking second thinking about launching his idea he also has a high paying corporate job that he hated. He'd been working for the same company for eight years and had climbed the corporate ladder. They provided him with a nice car and overseas trips but most importantly his job provided him with what, in the eyes of others, constitutes a 'respectable career'.
'Well, given that you hate your job, and your life's dream is to start your company then why don't you just go for it?' I really couldn't wrap my head around the problem. Sure, you have to live on less cash for a while. But if the main aim of earning money is to be happy and the process of earning that money makes you miserable, then surely it's a simple decision to make a change.
'But my father and long-term girlfriend don't want me to leave my job. They think it's important for me to have a secure career and their opinion means a lot to me.'
That stumped me because it's not a problem I've encountered. I've never had a 'respectable job' in a company with a car park and fancy business cards.
When I was tossing up whether to start my own music company at age 23 or take a high paid job with Sony Music, I remember the appeal of the fancy title and the seemingly secure income. It was actually my Mum who convinced me to go out on my own.
She knew that I'd always been entrepreneurial and told me she didn't want me making money for someone else's company when I could have my own. I was encouraged to reject the safe route and make my own way.
Before I met Mark, I hadn't considered how unusual that is and how lucky I was.
At high school, I always said I wanted to be either an entrepreneur or prime minister, but when I went for my annual mandatory trip to the careers guidance counsellor she would reply, 'Yes, but what JOB are you going to do? Who's going to employ you?'
By the end of school, they'd convinced me to become a journalist and sent me off with a nicely boxed plan of university courses. It wasn't until part way through my second degree that I remembered my dream.
I think that having the courage, determination and vision to start your own company is one of the toughest, most respectable career choices you can make. But for some reason, most of society still thinks entrepreneurs are a bit weird.
When my music company was at its peak, Mum told me she'd been bragging to some of her friends about our success. One of them, sceptical that managing bands was a legitimate job, said to Mum, 'That's great. It's lucky she's still young so she can get a real career if this doesn't work out.' Mum was furious!
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Why do people think that being an entrepreneur is somehow less secure than climbing the ladder at a corporate? When I started my music company I worked long and hard for close to nothing, and with no guarantee that money would ever arrive.
But I always felt secure; I knew I was in charge of my own destiny. As the global music business imploded, many of my friends with fancy titles at major labels lost their jobs, couldn't pay their mortgages, and wound up in all sorts of trouble. Having my own company put me in a much safer position.
Now, I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with wanting to work for a big company. We all want different things in life; that's what makes society work. We need accountants and marketing people and doctors and so on. I know people who are living out their lifelong dream as lawyers.
And I know of people like Mark, with the burning desire to create something: people who are stopped. Well-meaning parents, girlfriends, career guidance counsellors and other friends echo the same non-advice.
'How will you make money? What will you do if you fail? But you already have such a good job – you'll regret it if you leave.'
They don't understand what being an entrepreneur means, yet every day, comments like these dissuade aspiring entrepreneurs from following their dreams.
We all lose out as a result. Awesome products (like the one Mark hopes to make) never get made and companies that would have provided opportunity for many others aren't started.
Worst of all, people stay miserable in jobs that they hate, dreaming all the time about what they wish they were doing. What might have been.
We must change the way entrepreneurialism is taught in schools, but that's a bigger topic for the future. For now, if your partner, colleague, friend or family member comes to you and shares their dream for a start-up, first make sure they've thought it through, they have a solid plan, have analysed the market and have the right people on-board. If, like Mark, they do, then your next words should be, 'Go for it. I believe in you.'
And then tell them to watch this awesome interview with Jeff Bezos talking about his decision to quit a high-paying job to start an online bookstore called Amazon: