Just because a person can do something, doesn’t mean they should
Anyone who knows me (well) would likely admit that one of my biggest weaknesses is my brutal honesty; some call it “honest to a fault” (at the expense of the recipient’s feelings or emotions). Luckily, I’ve managed to finesse my delivery in situations where protecting feelings is important; however, this article is not one of those times. If anything, the message I’m going to deliver here — and its recipients — will benefit from a brutally honest bout of tough love, and a little ego bruising today can prevent a lifetime of heartache, disappointment, and inevitable failure.
What am I referring to? Ironically, it’s a message Elon Musk was crucified for years ago, but as someone who’s experienced my fair share of entrepreneurial ups and downs, I have to say he’s right.
Some people should not start companies.
Do I believe any cognitively competent individual today is capable of starting a successful business? Given the vast and free (or otherwise affordable) resources at all our fingertips, yes, of course. However, just because a person can do something, doesn’t mean they should. Here are five types of people who should never start a business, no matter how much they think they “want” to become an entrepreneur.
The first group of people who shouldn’t start a company — and the group to whom Elon Musk was referring in his controversial statement — are the people who need external encouragement. Listen, I get it: If you’re on a sports team, you may get a second wind when your team’s side of the bleachers all stand up to cheer you on. Sure, encouragement and cheerleading are nice to have, but they definitely aren’t a given or a necessity. Further, with the significant amount of entrepreneurial time and work spent alone, under wraps, with no audience or applause, those who rely on external encouragement to incite action are doomed from day one.
For the first three years of my entrepreneurial journey, I received zero outside encouragement, largely because I kept my struggles to myself. While it may have been nice to share my obstacles with a group of mood-lifting cheerleaders, I needed to conquer this journey on my own, which included looking myself in the mirror every day and choosing to trudge on. The early days of building a business are not often easy, and even many years later, I still endure difficult, questionable periods of uncertainty. What I don’t do is look to a bleacher full of cheerleaders or seek out my participation trophy as a sign to move forward.
Sorry, but if you fall into this camp, I’d argue you’re probably too soft and not quite self-motivated or dedicated enough to go all-in on entrepreneurship. Maybe stick to recreational team sports if you need cheerleader validation to get you to the finish line.
I know of an aspiring entrepreneur who’s been handed more than a few cushy opportunities in recent years. I’m talking about respectable 6-figure remote jobs that required no more than a few hours of daily attention and allowed immense freedom for him to do whatever he pleased in his remaining time. Most people would agree that’s the perfect gig during which to make significant strides on a person’s side hustle:
- High income
- High time freedom
- Low oversight
- Minimal structure
- Full geographical autonomy
The ironic part, however, is that as much as he claimed he wanted to “break free of the corporate servitude” (his words, not mine), he’d always blame a lack of free time as an excuse. When I finally had a hard, direct conversation and dug down to the bottom of what was holding him back, he finally realized and admitted it wasn’t a time issue. Instead, it was a lack of self-organization and motivation.
Simply put, he felt that he needed “someone to manage him” in order to keep him on task and productive. I feel it goes without saying, but this is starkly the opposite of what the entrepreneurial life often is. One of the hallmarks of the entrepreneurial journey is the ability — and responsibility — to manage your time yourself. If you’re someone who needs a manager to keep you accountable, timely, or productive, it doesn’t really seem like entrepreneurship is the best fit for you, in all honesty.
You know what you’ll likely never have as an entrepreneur? An outside party serving you hard deadlines for your pre-launch company before it has any customers. In fact, every time you plan to build a new product, service, or additional venture, the same reality persists: No one is making you do it, and they sure aren’t making you hurry up and get it done.
Some people don’t understand why even many self-funded solopreneurs work efficiently, non-stop, round-the-clock, for upwards of 60 or 70+ hours per week without a whip-cracking boss or customer deadline. The answer is simple: because we want to, and we aren’t driven or motivated by external deadlines or the fear of arbitrary consequences.
If you’re dependent on external deadlines with fear-inducing consequences to be efficient, get started, or take new pre-launch projects to completion, you probably don’t have the independence, drive, or work ethic you’ll need.
No one makes me work till 11 pm on a Friday night. No one makes me plan a 6-month marketing campaign months before it deploys. No one makes me foot the bill — and time commitment — adding enhancements to current products and services to make them better for future customers and further surpass our competitors. There is no hard deadline, but I still feel we’re behind, since I work with the assumption a competitor is always on our tail.
If you live in a developed country and/or have access to the internet, yet you ask individuals for answers to or handholding help with Google-able questions, you’re already at the bottom of the entrepreneurial pack. I don’t say this to be rude, but successful entrepreneurship can be 90% attributed to resourcefulness, and if you don’t have it, you’re bringing a shoestring to a sword fight.
Here are a few questions you should Google, rather than ask for help with:
- How do I set up my [Shopify/WordPress/etc.] website or store?
- What’s a good example sequence for a lead generation to purchase conversion email for [industry or product or service]?
- What slides should I include in an investor pitch deck?
- How do I run ads on [platform]?
Yes, you can always hire a 1-on-1 coach, consultant, or service provider, or pay for an online course for an in-depth, step-by-step tutorial, but if you require significant handholding for many parts of your entrepreneurial journey, you’re going to pay dearly in time and money. What’s worse, however, is that you’ll be lacking the inherent resourcefulness that spurs successful entrepreneurs to go digging and learn the DIY methods of acquiring skills and putting those competencies to the test in their startups.
Plus, I’ll let you in on the juiciest entrepreneurial secret we founders keep under wraps — which keeps many aspiring competitors at bay: None of us knew how to do anything we do today until we figured it out. Mind-blowing, huh? We aren’t all brilliant geniuses born with a vast array of business-building competencies and deep expertise; we simply spent enough time in the figure-it-out phase to finally make some headway.
Secret #2? You can too.
Along the lines of #4 above, some aspiring future founders believe they’re too busy, time-crunched, important, or — dare I say, lazy? intimidated? chicken? — to take the DIY “figure it out” route. Instead, these nontrepreneurs aim to replace learning with money. They believe they can simply pay their problems and knowledge gaps away to the more talented experts and remain complacently, willingly not that competent.
Here’s the truth: Yes, you can farm out many tasks to experts and pay your problems away. That said, doing so is a bottomless trap that will drain you of your limited cash reserves, while also keeping your intellectual market value at a static low. In other words, you won’t be broadening your skill set or bolstering your expertise, and choosing the “pay your problems away forever” route reeks of intellectual laziness.
If you’re too intimidated to learn, you probably shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. If you’re too busy or time-crunched to research, this probably isn’t the right season of your life to pursue starting a company. Unless you aim to be more of an investor-preneur than a hands-on builder and operator, and you have the financial wherewithal to justify this decision, you may not be cut out for entrepreneurship after all.
Some people will say a person with a high-risk appetite should pursue entrepreneurship, while others would say it’s someone with few responsibilities, low expenses, and substantial financial runway.
While I can acknowledge those may be helpful traits for a successful entrepreneur, they aren’t the number one marker of a born-to-play entrepreneur. Instead, the one key indicator that a person is a good fit for entrepreneurship is an unwavering, almost impulsive, insatiable drive to dig down to the bottom of problems, get their hands dirty, and figure things out.
It’s the people who have an unquenchable thirst for throwing themselves into new projects, acquiring new skills, and embracing the unknown with a healthy dose of conviction that they will be able to conquer the skills, industries, and obstacles they pursue.
Fortunately, people who have this trait rarely suffer from any of the five aforementioned conditions, and if you’re still reading this, fully undeterred by the entrepreneurial journey ahead, you just may be one of them.