It has been over two and a half years since I started my startup (HackerEarth) but well more than three years since the entrepreneurial bug bit me. I was still in the seventh semester of B.Tech at IIT Roorkee, and I was dreaming of building my own company.
When I look back, these three years have been a blur, while at the same it feels that I have been doing this forever. I feel as if all this time has rubbed off me. It’s like I can look back at time and see a younger, more foolish, more naive reflection of me; it’s as if I am no more a kid I used to be.
Being an entrepreneur might be the coolest fad in town, but by no means an easy one. It takes away too much of you – physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s like taking a vow and from that day, you are going to put that one thing (your startup) before every other thing in your life – your comfort, joy, family, friends and at times even your peace of mind.
Here are a few reasons why:
There is no guarantee of success, no matter how hard you work.
This is unfortunately the bitterest truth about entrepreneurship. In most other jobs, your success is directly proportional to the amount of hard work you put in (provided that you are in a job where there is a path of growth), but that’s not the case in entrepreneurship. Whether or not you succeed is not directly related to the amount of hard work you put in. You can spend every awake moment of your day working and still realize years later that you have failed miserably. This thought probably haunts every founder. In the early days, when things were very volatile, I would often wake up in the morning, with a lingering discomfort and a nagging thought about where we are headed. Even today, I am not sure what’s going to happen, and I am pretty sure three more years later, this doubt will still be there.
You accept uncertainty as part of life
This is something that you hate most about being an entrepreneur. You can never be certain about anything in life. Will that customer sign the deal, will that employee really join, will you be able to raise the next round of funding, will the marketing strategy work, will the new product feature get user adoption…. you are uncertain about almost everything. If there’s one thing that everybody wants in their life, its certainty, no one likes things to be unpredictable. But when you decide to be an entrepreneur it’s like you are jumping off a cliff into a pitch dark sea, what you don’t know is when you are going to hit the surface. For all you know you might have jumped into a space void that doesn’t end.
You are supposed to know everything
Yes, you are expected to have a solution for every other problem. Building a successful company not only means you have to build a great product, it also means you have to make tons of presentations, you have to create complex business models (that require some incomprehensible Excel sorcery), you have to learn to understand mind boggling legal jargon, you have to pitch maybe a million times, you have to write code, you have to do sales, you have to fill forms (100s of them), you have to do accounting, you have to fill taxes, you have to do everything that no one else in the company can do for you, at times you have to even clean the floor. And once you move beyond the stage of doing things on your own, you have to solve everyone else’s problem. From helping them to come up with complicated strategies and plans to helping them setup their computers, you are the go to man for everything. Things get even more difficult, when you realize everyone looks up to you, and you can’t really fail.
There’s no boss
This might seem a little counter-intuitive. You would be thinking isn’t it great to NOT have a boss? Not to have that guy who is always nagging you, always making your life hell. No, it isn’t great. Having a boss means, you have the option of saying – ‘It’s not my job’. Having a boss means, when things don’t work out you have the option to ‘move on’. Having a boss means, if you are not there, then everything is not going to fall apart. Having a boss means, that after office hours you can have your personal life. Being an entrepreneur means being your own boss, and that’s probably the toughest thing to do.
It’s lonely at the top
It is really lonely at the top. You might have dozens of employees/colleagues who are also your friends, with whom you argue, you fight and you have fun, but none of them can comprehend what you go through as a founder. Even if you have a co-founder, beyond a certain point of time, sharing with them also becomes ineffective because like you, they too are going through the same doubts, same uncertainty and same problems. Very soon, you even stop confiding in your spouse/partners because you feel guilty of cribbing about the same thing every day, in one form or the other. The loneliness that you can feel as a founder can be deeply discomforting.
Despite all this stress and all this uncertainty, being an entrepreneur can be the most fulfilling thing in your life. In your entrepreneurial journey, you not only grow as a professional but you also phenomenally mature as a person. It teaches you to be a survivor. It builds such an endurance in you that no matter how difficult is the situation you figure out a way to crawl out of it. It teaches you to have faith, when everything else fails, it teaches you to persist right when you are about to give up. Most of all it teaches a very simple fact of life – ‘Dreams only come true when you go out and chase them with all your heart’.