- September 7, 2020
It seems like everyone you meet nowadays either is or wants to be an entrepreneur in favour of being employed. I’ve heard statements like “I can’t slave for someone else” and people throwing around quotes like “If you don’t work on your dreams, someone else will employ you to work on theirs.” First of all, it’s not everyone’s dream to start a company and even if it was, realistically speaking not all of us can/should do it. Anyway, that’s a topic for another day. Today, I’d like to talk about why being employed does not mean you can’t be an entrepreneur or that you have given up on your dreams.
People younger than me always ask me whether they should start a company and get surprised when I say no. Why? You may ask. Because there’s a lot more to running a company than simply having an idea, even if it’s really amazing. There’s your idea; then there’s forming a team; leadership; capital; operations; finance; marketing; growth, et al. No one tells you about these things in the beginning and no one warns you just how painstakingly difficult it is. As the marine says, “The only easy day was yesterday”. Why would any sane person put themselves through that torture? I’d rather someone be a student and do what students do. Those that truly want to go through with it, don’t listen.
Let’s start off by debunking some myths and we will go with the biggest one which is about young founders.
Successful founders tend to be middle-aged
Research done by Harvard University revealed that the average age for a successful founder was 45. Heck, even Y-Combinator’s famous Paul Graham once quipped that the cut-off in investors’ head is about 32. The point is, successful founders on average are middle-aged. That is not to say that you can’t be a young founder who strikes big, take Zuckerberg — but it also means that there’s nothing wrong with starting a bit late. If anything, odds skew more in your favour.
Employment provides a learning curve
I reckon that I am lucky to be employed while also building my company. It provides me valuable insight into how to be a better entrepreneur and what I can borrow and what I shouldn’t borrow. Some of the aspects I have learned would have taken me longer to learn while working primarily on my start-up, I get to learn first hand working for other start-ups.
I also notice things I shouldn’t pick up, grapevine culture, management, operations, and all these facets that make a business tick outside of your awesome idea. I like to think of employment as getting paid to learn because really, that’s what I am doing.
The other thing for me is it affords me an opportunity to worry about the right things. I think better with a somewhat full stomach and less worry about where I am going to sleep. I’ve figured that it takes a long time to crack this space, especially a tech business in Africa. The last thing I’d want is to put more strain on the business salary-wise. I would rather that money goes into paying other employees while mine is sorted elsewhere.
You can’t beat experience
Then there’s the maturity that comes with age. Ceteris paribus, you can’t beat experience. You gain more clarity, more endurance, more network, more capital, or capacity to fundraise as well as domain expertise. It’s like training for the real fight. It takes patience to be a successful entrepreneur.
I think being narrow-minded about what it means to be employed closes people off from the opportunities that lie in front of them. But like in all things nature, there has to be a balance. Looking ahead, I would say the biggest trade-off with starting late is fear and risk tolerance. The responsibility that age brings makes a lot more people cautious and risk-averse.
So maybe being aware of this can somehow help mitigate it? I am not really sure.
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