Common misconceptions about being an entrepreneur

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Common misconceptions about being an entrepreneur



We’ve all probably heard this story: A young and driven individual, who was born to be an entrepreneur, drops out from a prestigious university to follow his passion; he meets an investor who is so head-over-heels about the entrepreneur’s idea that he gives him millions of dollars to build his tech empire. In a few short years, the entrepreneur creates a multibillion dollar business.

That is the story of Facebook, and in all likelihood the one startup story we all know. Sadly, this is the Hollywood version of the story and not exactly representative of reality. Entrepreneurship is never that easy. We see entrepreneurs as modern-era rockstars, and stories like these have caused us to develop several misconceptions about being an entrepreneur. Not every startup is receiving millions of dollars in funding, and most are operating on a shoestring budget. It’s a different world than what many people perceive it to be. Here are some of the myths that we all need to be disabused of.


You are born an entrepreneur


A common belief is that entrepreneurs are born and that they cannot be made. The fact, however, is that being an entrepreneur is not an inborn talent: You learn to become one through real-world experience. “Great entrepreneurs are made through nurture, not nature. If you are passionate and have a great idea, you too can become an entrepreneur as long as you never quit and see your idea through to the end,” says Louis Lautman of Young Entrepreneur Society. A study conducted by Vivek Wadhwa, Director of Research at the Center of Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University, found that of the 549 successful entrepreneurs they surveyed in 2009, 52 per cent were the first in their immediate families to start a business; about 39 per cent had an entrepreneurial father and 7 per cent had an entrepreneurial mother. That is, the majority did not come from an entrepreneurial background. If we take a look at some of most successful entrepreneurs that we know—Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Bin—we’ll find that all of them became entrepreneurs. Their parents were dentists, academics, lawyers, factory workers or priests. They were not born into an entrepreneurial family.


Age matters


The startup world loves the young generation. They are seen as the ones who will bring innovative idea and products into the world. This has led to a prefer ence in the ecosystem for younger entrepreneurs, and created a rule of thumb of sorts that says that people under 35 are the ones who make changes happen and that those older are just inept at coming up with innovative ideas. The Kauffman Foundation, a private foundation in Kansas city that focuses on education and entrepreneurship, researched the backgrounds of successful entrepreneurs and found that the average and median age of successful technology company founders when they started their companies was 40. They learned that there were as many entrepreneurs who were older than 50 as there were younger than 25. Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp conveyed his surprise over this age-related misconception thus: “I incorporated WhatsApp on the day of my 33rd birthday. I had no idea I only had 2 years left.” If we take a closer look at the startup world, we can see that this age-related ‘rule’ doesn’t apply to many founders: Marc Benioff was 35 when he founded; Reid Hoffman was 36 when he founded LinkedIn; Reed Hastings was 37 when he founded Netflix; Mark Pincus was 41 when he started Zynga, and Irwin Jacobs was 52 when he founded Qualcomm. There are plenty of outliers to the rule.

 Techinically, yes, an entrepreneur is his or her own boss, but that doesn’t mean an entrepreneur doesn’t have to answer to anyone.


You are your own boss


One of the most alluring aspects of being an entrepreneur, according to popular myth, is that you will be your own boss, you can sleep until 10 on a Monday, and you can take month-long vacations and maintain a flexible schedule. Technically, yes, an entrepreneur is his or her own boss, but that doesn’t mean an entrepreneur doesn’t have to answer to anyone. The reality of entrepreneurship is that the startup will be the most demanding boss you’ve ever had. You’ll have to be organised in order to meet the expectations of your customers, employees and investors. You will quickly realise that the ‘freedom’ of being your own boss is mostly an illusion. “I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me how great it must be for me because, as the owner, I get to make my own hours. What they don’t realise is that since it’s your own business, it’s incredibly difficult to turn it off. You find yourself always working, and always having to answer to your boss—the customers,” says Justin Beegel, founder of Infographic World.

Most entrepreneurs’ ideas change and evolve over time, but their success comes from being able to execute on their vision and make adjustments as necessary.


It’s all about the idea


It is true that ideas are worth a lot in the startup world, and most successful companies have ideas that sound great. However, the odds of hitting it big with your very first idea is extremely rare. There are cases of this happening, but thinking that you will be one of those cases is setting yourself up for failure. This obsession with having a good idea is a bit misguided because what most people forget to take into consideration is that ideas will evolve as you test them. Once you know your market, you will have to tweak your idea to fit the need. Therefore, it is not all about the idea; executing it plays a big role in shaping it. Perhaps one of the best example is that of James Dyson, who made 5,162 failed prototypes before inventing the best-selling bagless vacuum cleaner, the Dyson vacuum cleaner. He stuck to his idea of creating a superior vacuum cleaner, but it took him more than 5,000 tries to get it right. “I regularly receive calls from friends who have the next ‘big idea’. But they call it quits when the time comes to really start building something. The truth is that entrepreneurship is 10 per cent idea and 90 per cent execution. Most entrepreneurs’ ideas change and evolve over time, but their success comes from being able to execute on their vision and make adjustments as necessary,” says Bhavin Parikh, CEO/Founder of Magoosh.

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy, and it isn’t always fun, but it is very rewarding for those who commit to it. Know what you are getting into and what to expect, for that knowledge will help you navigate the treacherous road to startup success.

* First published in M&SVMAG 



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Guest Thursday, 01 June 2023