I remember after 2 weeks with my newly born daughter I lashed at my mother who called with an innocent question ‘how are you?’. The essence of my emotional response was ‘my life is over!!!’. Deep inside that desperate cry, however, was a hidden desire of vengeance. And when I dug deeper I realised that the whole world at the time was guilty of ‘why didn’t you tell me!!’.
Bringing up a business is very much like bringing up a child. So I’m going to spare myself a hidden anger of anyone who’ll come after me for not telling, and I’m going to say it’s straight away: it’s bloody difficult! (I also think smart people prepare for the worst and get nice surprises).
So, if you’re just about to embark on a solo journey and leave of daily feed of permanent employment, read on. My goal is not to scare you away. Painting black over white is easy, sells well and gets clicks, but it’s not what I’m after. I prefer to give benefit of a doubt, and I give you one that you do want a business, and you have read enough encouraging self- help books and scare-you-away self -help books. I want to give substance and vibe to a daily life of a business owner, all those things they don’t tell you.
- Decision YoYo. You read it all just like I did. “Create a fabulous product”, and ‘Be Lean’. Nobody told you these are conflicting statements! Fabulous product ends up costing dear, and inferior product puts you in that awkward situation of finding excuses ‘well we’re thinking of introducing it on a later stage, but at this time you can subscribe…”. And your customer do ‘pffff’ and leave. Well, you may have invented a new Tesla or other great innovation, in which case congratulations and good for you, but 90% of businesses are not particularly break through, yet have some edge. There is no solution. There is tenacity and grit to stay in the uncomfortable zone of balancing overspending and under delivering on customer expectations. Balance through that to volume, and you’ll be great on both sides.
- Customer dissatisfaction. I think there is an interesting phenomenon about the customer relationships. A smart business is customer focused: it creates a ‘persona’ when it talks about product, it creates a learning feedback loop, it constantly interviews, researches, talks and listens. And purely as a result of this effort you end up having relationship with The Customer. The obsession leads to fictitious creation of substance called ‘customers’. The effort spared for the pleasure and satisfaction of ‘customers’ calls for reward. Somehow we end up forgetting that a customer is a new person every day. We haven’t spent hours in pleasing and listening to him, he is there projecting, venting and be otherwise being annoying . So I’m telling you now: there will be a day you’ll hate your customers, those ‘ungrateful spoilt bastards’. There is no solution. There is tenacity and grit to stay on your course and go and listen to them again, and be fair again, and accept complaints again and thank them for it. Sooner or later you’ll end up removing emotional attachment, and your customer satisfaction will be pure NPS numbers, no hurt feelings. This is when it becomes business.
- They lie. Those people, those friends, relatives or odd networking acquaintances, who said ‘OMG this is such a fab idea, just call me when you’re up and running, I’ll be the first one to… (invest, lend, buy, promote, partner)”. There is no point on dwelling as to why, but they do. You obsessed property investor apparently have 5k to invest, your product advocate is getting engaged and too busy, and so on. Your biggest customer prefers something else or has been busy and haven’t had a chance to… It’s not about ‘trust no one’, there are people who follow through and end up investing and partnering. But it’s important to understand, that when someone passionately talks about the idea, for a decent human being it’s almost impossible to say: ‘well good luck with that, but don’t count on me’. It’s human nature to support and encourage, and most of them simply don’t mean it. They don’t expect you to succeed and come back for the promise. So patch the sorrow with a thought that you did better than they expected, and go on knocking on doors. One day you’ll get it. Just keep knocking.
- It’s lonely. I haven’t had major crises in my business but I had my fair share of disappointments, losses, failures and drawbacks. It’s bloody lonely. You live through a sinking feeling that there is no one to call and patch it and make it all disappear. You can’t divorce, run away and hand in a notice. It won’t go away or cure on its own. You will have to go and face it, work through it, work through shame, rejection, aggression, disappointment. You will have to accept you failed. Current culture provides many mental tools of dealing with failure. “Failures teach us’, ‘how can we convert failure to victory’, ‘what did we learn’, ‘what opportunity it gave us’ and so on. While these are great and absolutely smart ways of dealing with failure, it’s naïve to expect that you can avoid the feelings. It’s not pleasant, and it’s not particularly shareable too. You will live through many of those. Don’t run away. Grit and tenacity, remember?
- You will make mistakes.Many people, including myself, start business with the thorough preparation and decent experience behind the belt. I know perfectly what mistakes I should not make: I shouldn’t over focus on the product and idea, I should listen to the customers, Lean, Human Resource is the most important resource, Delegation, Leverage, Measurable goals, discipline, being personal, leading by example, and what not. I read over a 100 business books! I worked for 20 years in top positions. Surprising truth is – you’ll still make those mistakes. You’ll be hanging to a failed but loved idea for too long, you’ll hire wrong people, you’ll micromanage tasks and under control costs, you’ll make your elevator pitch a boring 10 minutes and prepare for your most important meeting at 3 am the night before. You’ll KNOW you’re not doing it right, but you’ll still do it. Why? I don’t know. Forgive yourself and move on.
I could go on. Bottom line is: business is not delivering an inspired key note speech at a global forum of successful people. Nor it is daily meaningless struggle. Just like raising a human being – it’s often unrewarding. You go in for success and face failures; you go in for freedom and face dependency. So I feel like there gotta be a bigger meaning behind the ‘WHY’ question. For me this bigger meaning is creatorship. It feels amazing to have created something, which is yours. It’s absolutely worth it.