THE CHALLENGE OF THE STARTUP ENTREPRENEUR

By James Forrest

I recently came across a provocatively-titled article on LinkedIn, “Startups Are NOT Glamorous—They Run on Fear,” and of course, I felt provoked to read it.

As a business attorney, I have the privilege of meeting entrepreneurs and executives from all walks of life across dozens of industry sectors.  I’ve said to many people many times that the diversity of backgrounds we see in the Triangle business community is one of the most stimulating aspects of being a business advisor in that you feel like you’re always learning about new ideas and new perspectives.  Our region benefits greatly from the intelligent and pedigreed talent pool that calls the RDU region home.

Through our organizations like our area chambers of commerce, CEDNC, the organizations promoting downtown businesses in Raleigh and Durham, and others, we have done a great job of promoting economic development in this area.  I’ve personally participated in a variety of events—where you can see the high level of excitement around entrepreneurship in the Triangle.

I am afraid, however, much like the author of the LinkedIn piece, that many people are attracted to entrepreneurship because it’s sexy or glamorous – and perhaps pursue a venture too quickly.  While I agree that great ideas for products or a fresh, unique application of a longstanding available service can have a certain gravitational pull, the fact is that the glamour quickly wears off.  Take it from me, being an entrepreneur is hard stuff, and it is not for everyone.

What I know from my own experience in starting this firm, as well as witnessing the launch of multiple client companies over the last decade, is that if you’re an entrepreneur that’s just enamored with the idea of being one, you’re not in it for the long haul.  That’s because, unlike a salaried or guaranteed-income position, reality sets in quickly due to the financial aspects of running your own business.  You will work harder than you ever have and will go through periods of time (perhaps extended) where you are making far less money than you may have been accustomed to.  You will face unanticipated obstacles that will require spur of the moment decision-making.  You will need to be multi-talented, spearheading sales, marketing, operations, finance, back-office, etc. in order to both effectively carry-out some of those tasks yourself, and find, persuade and engage people to join your team at the appropriate time.

A small piece of advice that I would offer to would-be entrepreneurs that is key to getting over the proverbial hump is to dream big, but think small (particularly as it relates to customers).  What I mean by that is that it’s perfectly fine to have a grand vision for a huge company that impacts the nation or the entire world—just don’t expect people to buy into that right away, in total.  Rather, you should have a plan that simply puts one foot in front of the other each day, focusing on each individual client or customer and their needs. That is where people buy in to you and your ideas, when they see how it can impact them as individuals and take care of their needs.  If you focus on that, many of the other things that will be required to be successful will fall into place with greater ease.