I recently was invited to CoLab, a co-working office space for start-ups operated by Florida West, to speak with the entrepreneurs about my experiences.
After an overview of lessons I learned to start my own company, I asked each attendee to write a question for me. The group was enthusiastic and had many questions, but for this column I wanted to focus on a few that translate to many entrepreneurs.
One was how does a person work in a startup business and have a balanced life?
My answer: They don't. I am not sure anyone truly has a balanced life. I recall reading that if a person lived to age 77 they would have lived a balanced life — just not while they are living it. Why? Life is lived in phases.
There is the phase when school takes up most of your time. Next, you’re building a career. Then comes planning and raising a family. After that, you’re working hard to save to send your child or children to college, or maybe buying that first home. Even at retirement age, based on health, you may only find yourself still busy. Older age brings doctor visits, etc.
The point is, serenity is in direct proportion to expectations.
What does that mean for people who are starting their own business? It is vital to love what you’re doing. Chasing the dollar won't cut it. It comes down to passion.
Every job has challenges. I’ve had the chance to observe some of the hardest working people handling very stressful situations that required years of education and training, education that never stops throughout their entire career. These people are physicians. They also must do very well in college to get into medical school. They need to do great in medical school to get into residency. Then, after 10 to 12 years, they finally get to be in the role they have trained their whole life for. If these people were not full of passion, they certainly would have quit.
This is the same with any new venture. If you love what you do, doing it doesn’t feel like a job.
A few years ago, Masters champion and local business owner Bubba Watson explained that while he was working hard and in that phase of his life and was gone quite a bit, he wanted to have the option to spend more time at home as his children grew older.
Golf is Bubba’s passion, yet we know the game is extremely difficult, and at his level, the pressure is intense. If he didn’t love golf, he wouldn’t make it when times were tough. His passion is key.
Why do so many start companies that are such bad ideas?
My answer: In most cases it’s much easier to identify bad ideas in hindsight. At the beginning, the idea did not seem like a bad one.
How do you avoid the pitfall of getting into a “bad” idea? The key is to seek out people who can provide objective feedback. We regularly receive phone calls and e-mails or people pitch me ideas in person that they feel are great. They’ll also share that others they’ve spoken with like the idea.
Often, these “others” are friends and family, and it is hard for friends and family to tell a passion-filled person that his or her idea may not make it.
Six years ago, we sponsored the Pensacola Business Challenge with a $50,000 grand prize and eight small business owners as judges. Thirty-three business plans were completed, and no matter what, each person who submitted a business plan received written feedback from the judges. The top eight business plans made presentations.
One day, a person whose plan did not make the finals called me very upset. Not only was that person's plan not chosen for the finals, but in the judge’s feedback they wrote that they did not think the business would last a year.
I explained that while painful, the judges wrote what they believed. The last thing they wanted to do was give false hope, then have a failed business owner say, “but you told me it was a good idea.”
I told the person you can still do your business and prove them wrong. Today, I see this person often, and looking back they now see the judge’s point of view.
A few more ways to make sure your idea has legs:
— For any business idea, complete a business plan, even if you feel you don’t need one for financing. This gives people a tangible, in-depth document to examine instead of just listening to an idea as you explain it.
— Utilize resources such as the Small Business Development Center and considering programs with the Small Business Administration (SBA).
A successful business endeavor is one that balances the passion to succeed with the pragmatism and ability to get objective opinions about your idea. Both are vital to success.
While passion is necessary to make it, too much passion with too few facts can lead to a startup that should have never started.