8 Habits Holding You Back From Entrepreneurship
I have come across many people who have been working for a long time in large companies, had plans to start their own businesses, but sadly most don’t make that leap. My father, may he rest in peace, was a corporate warrior. For the bulk of his career, he worked for a large firm as head of personnel and administration. He was very good at his work and had a great deal of experience. I frequently went to him for professional advice when I was grappling with an issue at work. Each time revealed to me the depth of his experience and wisdom. For a very long time, he had plans to start his own business. He had many ideas that included setting up a farm, a restaurant, chocolate shop, apparel store, and many more. He was a very meticulous man with great attention to detail. He put together business plans for each of these ideas, but never pulled the trigger to start any of them. That got me thinking how I too had business ideas and, like many other people, did nothing about these ideas. Why is that? After a lot of introspection, observation, and reading, I concluded that such corporate warriors have habits that get in their way of taking the leap into entrepreneurship. So, here are the habits (drum rolls please):
1- Need for Permission: When you work at large entities long enough, you get used to living in a hierarchical structure where there is always someone to give the green light before you make big decisions. It becomes a habit for you to look for that approval, or confirmation, to go ahead. It becomes unnatural to just leap forward without that approval. It almost feels like you’re committing a crime.
2- Too zoomed in/out: Many corporate warriors develop in-depth experience in a single field such as marketing, human resources, finance, etc. As they take on more senior roles in companies, they become more focused on their field and are less exposed to the others as others lead on them. When they decide to take the leap into entrepreneurship, or plan for it, they tend to zoom into the fields they are familiar with and spend too much time addressing every single detail. This would be fine, but it comes at the expense of everything else. They either ignore the other parts of the business or brush over them too vaguely. I experienced this on a consulting project I was working on for a group of scientists planning a biotechnology start-up. I had a very interesting debate with one of the founders about whether they should have any marketing for the business. The founders were scientists with very impressive knowledge and experience, but no business background. Marketing seemed too superficial and a waste of time for them. They wanted to focus on the operation section of the plan since they knew a lot about it and felt it was their differentiator. I eventually managed to convince them that they actually have to think about how they will sell their services. I think the magic words that got them to listen was “you could end up putting all this work and spending your life savings, but fail because you don’t have enough customers”.
3- Focus: this is a tricky one. In a start-up, you have to wear many hats to gets things going. On any given day, you will be selling, dealing with an angry customer, talking to suppliers, recruiting people, and looking at your financials. The longer a person stays at a corporate job where they are responsible for one field, the more they will struggle with the shifting. More importantly, you will need to be able to decide what to work on and what not to work on. It will be very tempting to work in your comfort zone or to underestimate the importance of the other fields
4- Risk tolerance/avoidance: This seems like a no-brainer. Entrepreneurship entails risk. You risk your invested money and the opportunity cost of earning income from a salaried job somewhere else. You also risk your time since being an entrepreneur requires significant dedication of your time away from your family and loved ones. This is one of my biggest obstacles since I want to make sure I spend time with my one year old son growing up.
5- Locus of control: The larger and more structured the company, the more likely the corporate warrior is used to having less control over his/her growth in the company. These companies will have tightly defined grading systems and a career path that lays out how you will grow in the organization over a predetermined time frame. Extra effort will yield very limited improvement to the growth speed. When the person gets used to the fact that someone else made his/her career decisions for him/her, s/he develops an external locus of control. To be a successful entrepreneur, you HAVE to believe that your actions determine the outcome. You will need to hustle to get that sale even when your first few attempts don’t work. Stop blaming others (the government, competition, etc) for the lack of results and focus on what you can do to get the results you want.
6- Perfection: There are debates between corporate warriors and entrepreneurs. On the one hand, an entrepreneur wants to get momentum and get things shipped when they are good enough. On the other hand, the corporate warrior wants to make sure quality is not compromised since his/her name is attached to it. I was on the “quality” side of the debate in an earlier job where I reported to the CEO at a small company. I eventually learned that in start-ups, you need to build momentum by shipping and iterating your way towards perfection. You can compromise on the scope (e.g. features in the product), but what you ship has to work. Unless you are selling something sensitive (like pacemakers airplane components), you can tolerate some bugs and issues. An online business founder told me they launch if their product is 70% bug-free. It’s important to make that distinction and become comfortable stop that “has to be perfect” refining that takes longer than it took to build the product. I am a victim of this and frequently catch myself refining the design of what I’m working on so it looks as good as possible.
7- Need for Clarity: the advantage of working in a corporation is that they figured out their business model. They know what customers want and how to deliver it to them. The bulk of the work goes into enhancing. There is relative clarity as to what to do. When you get used to that environment, it is very disorienting and scary to switch to a start-up where you have much less clarity about the future. Entrepreneurs experience this stress to survive this ambiguity, but they work through it. Many corporate warriors have a tough time making that adjustment. By the way, entrepreneurs like to iterate a lot since it helps them sort through the ambiguity better and faster than doing it all in one shot.
8- Laziness: This doesn’t apply to all corporate warriors. Many people settle into jobs where they do the tasks and hours in their job descriptions and no more than that. It becomes comfortable. That breeds laziness. You can get away with that at some companies, but you will sink as an entrepreneur if you are don’t do more.
There is a Chinese proverb that says “Habits are cobwebs at first, cables at last”. The longer you have the habits, the harder they become to break. Many people choose to allow themselves to develop these habits, which takes them further and further away from their entrepreneurship dreams. These habits also get in the way of them moving up in the corporate world. So if you catch yourself with any of these habits, it’s never too late to acknowledge and replace them.
Do you have any of these habits? Share your thoughts.