After being bored out of my mind working 9 to 5 at IBM, I dreamed of entrepreneurship. Underlying my aspiration was the fantasy that I’d own my calendar, have more freedom and execute my visions quickly, without dealing with the usual corporate politics. Like a lot of people, I thought entrepreneurs were their own boss.
Turns out, they’re not. Being an entrepreneur is all about serving your customer base and the employees who execute your vision. Clients and staff become your boss.
With that in mind, here are six misconceptions of entrepreneurship I discovered when I acquired ConsumerAffairs in 2010.
1. Employees are motivated by money.
Negative. Some 64 percent of Millennials would rather earn $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring, according to Glassdoor. I’ve had to learn the psychology around why people do what they do, how they are motivated and why they show up every day, which, it turns out, isn’t always related to money.
The challenges I’ve faced in employing good workers and creating a company culture conducive to performance were unexpected. It has never been hard for me to see what ConsumerAffairs needs to do and where we need to go in order to improve sales or grow the business. The challenge has been creating an environment in which people are motivated to embark on the journey with me, because I know I can’t achieve those things alone. Marching up the hill alone without troops is impossible no matter how innovative or brilliant you are as a CEO. You need customers to buy your product, and you need good workers to execute company goals.
That’s where finding ways to inspire workers enters the picture. The catch is that you can’t just inspire with a salary. A great team, flexible schedule, appealing work environment and amazing benefits are just a few things that can motivate employees to excel in their roles.
2. Entrepreneurship is better than employment.
Here’s the thing about non-entrepreneurs. They can shut work off the second they leave the office. As an entrepreneur, the success of the business becomes part of your identity, and you bring that with you wherever you go. ConsumerAffairs currently employs over 200 people, and the pressure of their professional lives falls on me. The responsibility is massive, which is something I was not thinking about when I quit my job at a private equity firm in San Francisco to acquire ConsumerAffairs.
If you’re good at being an entrepreneur, it’s because you have a deep-seated psychological need to build a business, which becomes part of who you are. The downside is you’re not always able to leave the office at work or turn it off at home when your title is Chief Executive Officer. To prepare, read up on recruiting because you’re going to need to hire the best staff possible to keep yourself from going insane.
3. Entrepreneurship is static.
As ConsumerAffairs continues to scale up, there’s a trickle-down effect throughout the company based on my decisions. I have to always be thinking ahead to figure out what our company needs based on impending threats and advances.
As it turns out, I’m not alone in this way of thinking. About 88 percent of CEOs are concerned about cyber threats, 78 percent are concerned with the rapid change of pace due to technology and 65 percent are fearful of over-regulation, compared to 35 percent in 2010. From drones and 3D printing to self-driving auto technology and artificial intelligence, CEOs need adequate infrastructure to innovate and evolve.
4. Cash is king.
Nope. Cash flow is important, but in the end, it’s the customers who are king. At ConsumerAffairs we serve seven million customers a month who visit our website for brand leadership, reviews and information. Some 80 percent of them are researching a life-changing purchase. They come to us during their time of need, which means the pressure is on to provide them with the tools and resources they need to make the best purchasing decision.
5. Business school is the only path to entrepreneurship.
Not even close. What do I have in common with Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Google’s Larry Page? We all studied engineering. Data indicates three times as many CEOs and founders have earned an advanced degree in engineering than an MBA.
An engineering degree is the perfect training for entrepreneurship because it gives you a framework to apply the scientific method to real world problems. On a day-to-day basis, engineering has prepared me to find creative solutions to big problems by giving me the wisdom to apply science, technology and materials to consumer related challenges. Sure, business school can be a pathway to entrepreneurship. But it’s far from the only one out there.
6. Time is your own.
That’s a hard no. Time is always limited, so no one can say they own their calendar, including CEOs of huge companies like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. A carefree attitude about time management is over once you’ve entered the entrepreneurial realm. Instead, the demands of life become acute. That’s why many CEOs are accused of being aloof and brusque towards family, friends and employees. We carry the weight of the company on our shoulders in 24-hour units.
What keeps me sane is the Franklin Covey time grid, which forces you to proactively think about prioritizing and delegating. Now, I block out quadrants for everything, including family, to make sure I take care of my priorities first with the limited time I have.