Recently I got a question from a friend about career choices and entrepreneurship. She asked:
“I am curious to know what are some ways for one to fund themselves once they’ve decided to commit to their entrepreneur business full time. Do you suggest someone to work full-time/part-time for living income and grow their business on the side?
I am thinking about that now I am in the process of looking for jobs, maybe I should have a job with the skills I currently have, put food on the table, and work on my own business at the same time. Or is it a better idea to choose a more challenging position to grow, gain experiences, and then pick up my business idea later?
How did you feel back then when you made the decision to become a full-time entrepreneur? How do you feel now? Was it a difficult decision?”
I think it was a really good question so I spent some time, thought it through, and formulated below reply to her. I’m sharing my thoughts here just in case you are also struggling with a similar dilemma and are looking for some clarity.
I would say that what it comes down to is a choice highly dependent on what exactly your business idea is, why you want to pursue it, and how you want to pursue it. Let’s look at them one by one.
- What exactly is your business idea?
This is important because, for some ideas, timing is very crucial. Maybe if you lose the great timing, you will have to work so much harder in the future to catch up and face fierce competition. For other ideas, you can take as long as you need to develop the idea or your skills. One of my favourite TEDTalk is about the surprising benefit of “procrastinating”. Check it out if you are intrigued. “The surprising habits of original thinkers | Adam Grant”.
The business idea itself also determines how you fund yourself and your businesses. The revenue sources of a nonprofit organization (grant or donations, for example) can be very different from that of a for-profit organization (so many ways to generate revenues, depending on your business model). And funding for a physical product (crowdfunding like Kickstarter, for example) can be very different from that of a service (because it is not so easy to present a working prototype on crowdfunding source for a service).
- Why do you want to pursue your business idea?
That’s what I call the Why-Power (will-power alone is not enough!). You have to start with why. Sometimes the answer is not so much about “Can I afford to chase my dreams with all the risks and opportunity cost?” but more of a question like “Can I afford NOT to chase my dreams?” To me, it was a very easy choice. After I walked out of my “quarter-life crisis”, I started to see what really matters to me, what truly makes me happy, and why life is worth living. Then I found my passion and my drive. Once I figured that part out, there was really no other option for me. I knew that I had to do what I decided to do because no one was really doing it and it was the only thing that would make me happy and fulfilled.
The why-power is very important not only because it is what gets you started in the first place, but also because it will be what keeps you going. Before people enter into entrepreneurship, they usually have no idea what it takes. It’s nobody’s fault simply because they will never know until they experience it themselves. I certainly had no idea what I got myself into when I made that decision a year ago. I would caution anyone who wants to pursuit entrepreneurship without a strong enough reason.
The reason does not have to be grand or altruistic. It can be “to make enough money to support my family” or “to just make myself proud”, as long as you think it is worthwhile. No matter what your why is, it has to be strong enough! That is because there will be many challenges along the way and if your why-power is not strong enough, at one point when it becomes too much, or when you are facing a defeat or setback, you will give up.
On the contrary, if you are very clear on why you started your business and why you are doing what you are doing, the why-power will be strong enough to carry you all the way through. All challenges will suddenly look very necessary to prepare you for whatever is yet to come, you will appreciate them, and you can quickly learn to treat failures as learning opportunities.
In the end, the why-power is also how you stay true to yourself. I highly recommend the TEDTalk or the book “Start with Why” from Simon Sinek. What the TEDTalk did not mention but was included in the book was this reality in which people with no clear why-power, even after they have gained the fame or wealth that people admire, they do not necessarily feel happy. That is because although it is possible to start a business and succeed without knowing exactly why you are doing what you are doing, it is likely that you will eventually feel lost.
Another way to explain the why-power is that, if you are not sure whether to chase your dream, you simply do not want it bad enough. That is totally fine. We all have many different interests in life and not all of them can become our career. However, when you do find something that makes you no longer want to hold back, then your choice is made already. It’s like you’ve found your purpose and your calling (not meant to sound religious or spiritual here).
- How do you want to pursue entrepreneurship?
Let’s say “to have a job with the skills I currently have, put food on the table, and work on my own business at the same time” is Option #1 and “to choose a more challenging position to grow, gain experiences, and then pick up my business idea later” is Option #2. And to be a full-time entrepreneur is Option #3.
A lot of people choose Option #1 and that’s what basically how Tim Ferris started. Just make money with something and use that money to do what you really want to do. The book “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau has a lot of examples of people doing just that. So it is a totally valid option, as long as the money making job is not consuming all your time and sucking all your energy…
Option #2 is not a bad one, either. You don’t have to owe a business to be an entrepreneur, which is Option #3. I love Eric Ries’ definition of an entrepreneur and a start-up. Basically, he says in his book “The Lean Startup” that entrepreneurs are everywhere and you do not need to work in a garage to be an entrepreneur; any organization or a part of an organization that involves a lot of risk-taking and innovation is a startup. It might be a buzzword, but you can achieve your entrepreneurial goals by being an “intrepreneur”, a person who behaves like an entrepreneur whilst being employed.
The best option, in my mind, is to combine what you love doing and are good at, the value you can provide by doing that, and the need or gap in the market. If you can find the intersection of all three, then you should not worry about being able to support yourself while chasing your dreams. Think really hard on these three criteria. As long as you truly care about something and excel at doing it, you provide real value to others, and there is a real need for what you are providing, then money will eventually come, not as the end goal but as a by-product.
For example, in order to support my startup Beyond App which probably will not bring any revenue for a while, I am now also earning by coaching others to find their purpose and pursue their dreams. I know coaching is something that I love doing, that I can provide value to others, and that it is needed by my niche market internationals/immigrates. So it is congruent with what I believe in and what I am trying to achieve ultimately, which is to help people to have a better relationship with themselves and with others, to inspire them to have a healthy and happy life, to unleash their full potential, and to collectively make the world a better place.
I am lucky in that when I first started, my husband was very supportive and was willing to take on the responsibility of earning for both of us so that I can focus on building my business. That definitely helped a lot. But it happened like that also because I first had to believe in what I was doing so that he or any other of my supporters could believe in me.
Personally, to become a full-time entrepreneur was the best career choice I’ve ever made. I do not regret it at all. Were there difficult times that made me want to quit? Definitely. Have I ever doubted myself? All the time! But there is no regret. I am a much better person and professional than I could have ever imagined. Now I have been through what I have been through, I honestly cannot picture myself doing anything else!