I thought it was over, but we managed to overcome so much adversity. In the end, it was soooo much worth it!”
Of course, we keep on hearing this about those who’ve taken the great leap from corporate to entrepreneur, right? The insane difficulty and the inevitable phoenix-like rise to the top.
But what exactly makes it difficult? What are the exact changes felt?
I’d like to highlight some of the things I felt and observed when I made my own leap, almost exactly 3 years ago today:
1) I WAS DOUBTING PETER
From ten years of structured work with a boss, I suddenly now called ALL the shots. I went from doing final interviews and creating performance management systems as an HR Manager to suddenly deciding what to build, who to market to, how to handle finances, and how exactly to spend my time. There was nothing in corporate that could’ve prepared me for it.
I remember smiling and facing the STORM team to tell them I was going to be fulltime: about how excited I was and we’d get to do all sorts of things. While I was confident and optimistic, I was at the same time wracked with doubt.
What if I’m wrong?
In retrospect, having a team to lead also helped a lot: you’re forced to live up to the confidence you WANT to exude around them.
After some time, did end up getting used to it, largely because no matter what happens, you realize you don’t get fired.
Now, there is still doubt, with the difference being the knowledge that doubt really comes with the territory of doing new things. So the focus becomes – let’s do this fast, so if it doesn’t work, we learn and adjust fast as well.
2) THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A SALARY
The whole point of a salary revolves around its consistency – every two weeks you get it, and what you get is exactly the same month after month.
If that’s what a salary is, then sorry, but you don’t get that.
I thought I gave myself a salary when I started fulltime for STORM, but it turns out, what I gave myself was an upper limit: I would usually get something lower, and what I would get would vary each time.
Why? Simply because startups struggle in their first years, if not altogether folding.
It was the time when I understood when A/R was really all about. Sometimes, clients just don’t pay on time – and it could be for inane reasons (like “the accountant is absent” or “the check is in the drawer and the person with the key is on VL”). Of course, they don’t really know (or care) that you’ve been banking on that check for everything.
Gosh, I hate receivables.
3) YOU NEED YOUR SPOUSE TO BE THERE FOR YOU
So in essence I told my wife, who just gave birth to our firstborn, that I was going to take an 85% pay cut to pursue my dream during the recession.
She had EVERY RIGHT to say something like:
“WTH?! Did you hit your head somewhere? Think about your son! Wait a bit first until the firm is more stable to give you higher pay”
And you know what? Thinking about it now, if she told me that, I probably would not have taken my leap when I did. And not doing so at that time would have killed STORM.
She continued to believe in me during the times relatives doubted my choice, or when there were more bad news, or when we had to tighten our belts.
My wife had faith in me.
And that made all the difference.
4) YOU WILL NEED TO FIRE FRIENDS
As a former HR leader, it was usual for me to fire people. That doesn’t mean it would be any easier in my own firms. In fact, it’s harder, because in a smaller team, I worked directly with everyone. They’re friends.
There will be hiring mistakes though. I think one big weakness we have had in STORM is that Pao and I have cream puffs for hearts, so we delay and delay.
Indecision like this can kill startups, because it isn’t built to carry deadweight like larger firms can. You just need to realize any delay isn’t doing anyone a favor and just do it.
5) IT’S TOUGH TO LEARN FROM MISTAKES
The cliché is true – mistakes will be where you will learn from the most. What they don’t say is how difficult this is to go through. In a lot of times, the lesson gets ingrained in you precisely because the bitter pill was tough to swallow.
In a startup, a mistake can make you miss a pay period. A bad hire can lead to extreme frustration. It can mean the loss of an important client. A series of mistakes can lead to further self-doubt and paralysis.
But this is something you have to learn to deal with and embrace, because it WILL happen. I do think these battle scars are precisely what makes an entrepreneur a true entrepreneur.
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