“I’m interested in entrepreneurship, and I think I’d like to be an entrepreneur, but I just don’t know where to start!”
Despite books upon books about starting your own company, entrepreneurship programs at business schools, and even the emergence of “innovation consultants,” entrepreneurship still appears one of those things difficult to enter into. Lots of people are interested in it as a topic, but very few young people pursue it.
There are plenty of reasons why this may be. Increased average student loan debt makes it harder to launch a venture with low starting pay. Increased governmental regulation makes it harder to legally navigate the launching process. The pace of the tech sector makes the half-life of many ideas much shorter than before. Young people are particularly risk averse after living through the Great Recession.
All of these factors surely have an effect. People follow incentives, and the institutions we operate within affect our actions. If the government or schools or our ideas raise the cost of entering into a risky, low-paying venture, then we’re less likely to enter into that venture.
But maybe it’s also because entrepreneurship is hard.
One of the hardest things to do in life is to create a path where there isn’t one. This doesn’t even have to mean inventing a new iPad or a successor to the college model. Just starting a business where there isn’t one requires the ability to build a framework and offer a product that wasn’t being offered in a way that it was before. You can read all about how to build that framework, the moves you need to follow, and the types of people you must surround yourself with, but unless you can fill in the actual moves you yourself have to make, you won’t be going anywhere.
Entrepreneurship is a lot like swimming in this way. Motivational speakers and business book authors love to say you should “jump right in” and “make the dive,” and there is more to this than just platitudes. Swimming is something that you can take lessons in, watch people do, and learn about the motions of doing, but the actual movements that keep you afloat are going to vary on a very personal level. The way it feels to swim and the learning curve involved differ for everybody, and can only be learned by trying. First you try in the shallow end, where you can stand if you can’t stay afloat. As time goes on, you venture out into the deep end, and may eventually move to swimming on an unguarded beach.
If you want to jump right into entrepreneurship, you can start in the shallow end. You can offer freelance translating or editing services in your free time, or give tennis lessons, or build a simple app. As you learn more about the moves needed to keep yourself afloat, you can scale out the business and move into deeper water, eventually getting to the point where you have to brave waves and don’t have an easily-accessible guard (though the bottom of the pool isn’t that deep, at least in the US — see point #5).
You don’t have to quit your job and move across the country to be an entrepreneur, but you have to learn to embrace that uncertainty you felt as a child learning how to swim! You’ll eventually have to swim on your own.