Years ago I helped a gentleman open a bank to serve the Hispanic market. We raised the money and squeaked into existence just before the housing crash and subsequent industry collapse that would ultimately take both his job and mine with it. But we very nearly didn’t make it.
First off, this gentleman was of Hispanic heritage and thus very passionate about helping “his people” learn the banking system in the U.S., but he looked more Irish than Hispanic so “his people” didn’t know what to make of him. Second, he ignored virtually every piece of advice given to him about how to complete the project, despite paying good money to me and my company for it. However, after losing both time and money he did ultimately succeed, and learned enough to apply his knowledge toward other endeavors that would serve Hispanics residing in the U.S. I’m not sure how many endeavors there ultimately were, because we lost touch about a year ago, but during one of our last lunches where he was talking about his latest venture he mentioned that his wife, “used to say I married a f&*%@#! entrepreneur, and now she says I married a f&*%@#! entrepreneur.”
Fortunately for those of us who have a romance with the idea of being an entrepreneur, it’s once again cool to say you’re starting a company. Unfortunately, it’s also harder than ever to do.
Not that starting a company was ever easy, there just didn’t used to be so much competition. It used to be that you created a business plan, walked into a bank, and if the plan looked good they’d give you a loan to make it happen. Now there are funding options all over the place, from Angel Investors to Venture Capitalists to ordinary individuals who crowdfund ventures in exchange for some perk like a t-shirt or a membership to the beer-of-the-month club. But there’s also thousands more companies competing for the same dollars, making it incredibly hard to get noticed. And if your venture is one still trying to get noticed, you’re probably calling yourself a f&*%@#! entrepreneur and wondering which will fold first, your marriage or your business, because it takes a saint to live with an entrepreneur. Fortunately I married a saint, and he’s pretty good at tolerating the work calls at odd hours, my obsessive need to check email and my mood swings brought on by the one step forward ten steps back dance that embodies what it’s like to birth a new company.
I had hoped that when I wrote about my own startup adventures it would be nostalgic; check in hand and marveling at how our little two-person show grew into a multi-million dollar company that Amazon just bought. That’s every entrepreneurs dream of course, but in my case it wasn’t (and maybe still isn’t) unattainable. After all, there’s one type of sale Amazon’s supply chain doesn’t touch; the one that takes place inside the brick-and-mortar store, and my company owns the patent on the business process that could open that facet of the supply chain to them. Instead I’m writing this hoping I can hang on long enough to realize the dream, and wondering why I choose this over a real job.
I don’t have normal business hours. I don’t have access to the tools and resources that would really drive things forward. I don’t even get paid, except in equity, and that only counts if we succeed. So what’s the point? I guess it’s that I love envisioning what we could be. I love thinking about all the different applications of our business model, the strategic relationships we could develop, the marketing campaigns we could create. I love the idea that we could have a significant impact on the retail industry in a way that would benefit the physical store. And I love the idea that I can say, “I saw what the future of retail looked like and I helped build it.”
I still think our concept represents the future of the retail supply chain. I just don’t know if I’ll be around to see it. Things are moving slow, which isn’t uncommon, although painfully slow would be more accurate, and I think that’s probably less common. I do freelance writing for another startup and concept to launch party for them is just shy of three years, but I’ve been involved in this retail concept for four, and we still don’t have a fully functioning website. (It works, it just doesn’t yet have all the bells and whistles we want it to have). I know part of being an entrepreneur is persevering through the tough times, and we make progress every day so I don’t have any plans to give up, but my mental state is starting to suffer.
Like the banking gentleman the person for whom I’m consulting has selective hearing skills. I proposed crowdfunding over two years ago, but it wasn’t until one of our investors used it on another project that he started to take that seriously. I proposed a strategic alliance with a shipping company as a way to monetize our website, which he didn’t put much stock in until another board member echoed my sentiments. I’m trying to stay positive, but after years of consulting for people that didn’t listen on bank projects I’ve got a bit of a short fuse for people that want help yet refuse what’s offered, and I’m wondering why someone else has to validate what I say before he’ll act on it. I don’t think its a glass ceiling thing because he doesn’t strike me as that type of guy, but then again if it isn’t that means it’s me, so maybe it’d be better to have my gender discriminated against than my ideas. Either way, my mental state is a little fragile right now, and I’m hoping that doesn’t detract from the future I know we could have.
Most entrepreneurs have failed at least once before they achieved success, but I’ve already had my failure. A few actually. And I don’t care that I failed previously because none of those ventures really spoke to me, they just happened along at a time when I was available to work on them. That’s true of this venture too, but this one speaks to me. I like our mission. I believe in it. I can be proud to be part of it because it’s not just a way to make a living for myself but for others too. Sure I may sometimes want normal hours, but that means giving up flexibility. I may want someone with more knowledge and experience to do the work I’m not qualified for, but then I wouldn’t learn it myself. And I may really really really want a paycheck, but I don’t have to have it. Not yet.
I know the idea of finding my startup match and living happily ever after is a bit overly romanticized. And yes part of the reason I want this to succeed is so that I have a reason to get out of my active wear. But above all else I am caught between being in love with start ups and being afraid I don’t have the energy for another one. I can’t imagine working in a place where I don’t get to help influence how it’s built and what it can do. But I’m drained. I want this to work so instead of being a f&*%@#! entrepreneur, I can be a f&*%@#! entrepreneur!