No I'm not blogging about eBay-Skype
"If you want to be an entrepreneur, stop believing that ideas matter. That isn't what entrepreneurship is about. Entrepreneurs aren't idea people, everybody and their brother has ideas. Entrepreneurs are people that exploit ideas by matching them to market needs, executing them despite scarce resources and designing a business model that makes the idea profitable. If you want to be an entrepreneur, stop waiting. Start doing something. That is how you learn. Make entrepreneurship your hobby, until you can make it your career."
My wife and I graduated biz school in 2000, charged up by stories of friends and acquaintances who had ridiculous success founding start-ups, finding VC money and living the entrepreneurial dream (one of them happened to have founded Suppliermarket.com, which was acquired for $400MM by Ariba - he now flies his personal jet to functions). Enlightened, we went to work for a start-up and ended up founding our own company within a year of leaving school. We sank every cent we had into the company (and loaded up on debt) and happened to raise $2MM in angel money as well. Two years later we had 17 employees, 70 automotive dealership customers and a break-even business. Ultimately we sold the company to the professional management we brought in.
Here's a few bits no one tells you.
1) First time entrepreneur (and no PhD/engineering degree)=No VC funding (no matter how many edits to your business plan). Without VC cash, the money came in ridiculously frustrating spurts. I can honestly say that I have never had more sleepless nights fighting ulcers, racking my brain for sources of funding. We traveled door to door selling our software, we eeked investments from friends of friends of friends, from customers and even asset sales (eBay was a great way to meet payroll).
2) Salary and Bonus (rofl). My wife and I made a whopping $35K in salary over two years. Every dollar raised went to payroll, sales calls, marketing or working capital. At some point when the electricity went out in our apartment did we realize we needed to get paid enough to cover the basics.
3) Entrepreneurship=Blue Collar. I was COO of my company. As COO I had two critical jobs. First was to test our software, over and over and over again (our solution was telephony software so that meant answering 500+ calls a day). Second was spending 30-40 hours a week on the floors of offices and in closets, fixing the very issues I'd missed testing. I stopped working on the business plan with the first customer we signed...
4) Luck is everything (but you have to make your own luck). The first distributor of our software came from us cold-calling hardware distributors (about 100). One of them thought we were 'Siemens Systems' and actually called us back (our company was 'Cima Systems'). The call woke me up from bed. The guy on the phone asked if Lisa was there. I told him she was in the shower. He laughed and said "Siemen's VP of Sales is in the shower? Who are you and why did you call us?" I then turned on the sales pitch and they ended being our first distribution deal.
Starting a company can be a hugely rewarding experience. In my case, that reward wasn't monetary. Personally, I learned to cope with significant personal risk, to take rejection in stride, to stick it out to the point of sheer stupidity (things curiously seemed to work out somehow) and to laugh a whole lot at myself and at the quirks of life in general. The experience was searing but left me a lot more capable to follow my own nose.
So have a great idea? Want to be an entrepreneur? Just remember its a blue collar job...