We hear the stories — a new business, a clever website, a service that changes out lives. Entrepreneurial success stories are all over the news, but oftentimes we don’t hear the whole story. So before you go and get totally jealous you didn’t think of that idea, here are 12 undiscussed truths of entrepreneurial life you ought to be aware of.
Read closely, the information revealed here might actually help you reach your own start-up goals.
1. They were funded early on
Entrepreneurs like to feel self-made, straight out of their own pockets, but rarely do they get far on their own dime. Everyone from the creators of Amazon to the brains behind Seamless had an ample source of seed funding to turn their dreams into real services. Most deserved it too, or we would not have many of the services we love today. But just so you know, initial funding and some wisdom to manage it can make all the difference.
2. They don’t know code
Entrepreneurs like to feel tech-savvy and have us think they wrote the code behind their masterpiece. But many of them hire teams of underpaid coders to make things click. Oftentimes, the person you see featured in BusinessWeek is the business man, not the tech guru. So if you don’t have all the computer prowess but still have the ideas, there’s plenty of hope for you.
3. They weren’t profitable for a long time
Entrepreneurs lose money, sometimes a lot. But it’s their “ups-will-outweigh-the-downs” gambling mentality that helps them pull through. Take Xbox, widely regarded as the best gaming console today, which lost Microsoft over $100 per sale back in 2001 when it came out. A few years later it was the most-sold video gaming console. The point is, no one starts out in the green. Entrepreneurs often whether large storms in fees and sunk costs before seeing a pretty bottom line.
4. The idea was not unique
Entrepreneurs take ideas to the next level but where the idea originated is almost always unclear. Of course, from the public standpoint, it helps to pin a face to an idea regardless of the initial “he said/she said.” Take Facebook, the classic example portrayed in the Social Network. Zuckerberg simply had the coding genius to do what a few others wanted to do, and that alone makes him the Godly. “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook,” Zuck famously remarked to a panel of lawyers. Just keep in mind — if you’ve got the next million dollar idea it may already be in development, but it’s always a good idea to keep quiet about it and push on anyway.
5. The numbers were fudged along the way
Entrepreneurs fudge numbers and this helps big time. No one notices some guy who sold a website for $200, but for $20,000? That’s serious business. It’s numbers like these that get people reading and more importantly from the entrepreneur’s perspective, reinvesting time and money. So be forewarned, if someone can lie about a number to their benefit, they usually will. As Amy J. Cuddy discovered, it helps to “fake it before you make it” and this is easily done in the books.
6. The lifestyle is not posh
Entrepreneurs are really good at toughing it out. Everything from living in a garage like Steve Jobs did to eating packs of Ramen and living off 3 hours of sleep is common before the idea takes off. So despite the pictures of awesome homes and lavish weddings, know that if you want to get there, you’ll have to wade through cups of old coffee and suffer many an all-nighter first.
7. Their community was not big
Entrepreneurs like to feel social proof. They have a massive band of followers and that convinces you and a lot of others to hop on board too. But, really? It’s pretty easy to fudge numbers online (like profits) so next time you see a ridiculous follower count, maybe you should say “hmmm.” And if your community is small, don’t worry! With the power of social networks, sometimes all we need are a few diehard supporters to launch successfully into full-blown entrepreneurship.
8. They’re not good at speaking
Entrepreneurs are good at communicating. Ha! I almost couldn’t get that sentence out. Truth is, the techie geniuses who makes things we adore are often either too lazy or unable to explain how things actually work. And when your most lucrative customer base is made up of total beginners, this becomes a problem. So two points: don’t assume because someone made it they can explain it, and if you’re someone with both skill sets (social communication and tech) then pat yourself on the back. You’re better off than you think.
9. They’re not self made
Entrepreneurs like to think they paved the path to success, but usually they just drafted their way to major popularity. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but know that very few go all the way without some help from others who blazed the trail first. If you think blogging and site building are your tickets to fame, you may want to learn how bloggers network with bloggers to go from zero to viral. Make sure to leave John Morrow a comment or two.
10. They didn’t instantly go viral
Entrepreneurs love buzz words and any phrase with “viral” in it certainly speaks good things. But “going viral” wasn’t a reality for most of them. A classic example is Pinterest, who’s growth relied heavily on marketing, not organic shares, despite the aura of instant growth they managed to convey. Don’t kid yourself — marketing is real and quite effective.
11. They failed, a lot
Entrepreneurs are great at failing and getting back up almost before the fail happened. The products you admire and use, like Google, took years of refining before they actually came to exist in all their glory. Don’t believe it? Check out these 5 Google product fails — bet you remember a couple of them.
12. They sacrificed heavily
Entrepreneurs know it only gets more competitive at the top. In order to get to the forefront of the public’s attention, where the real business takes place, sacrifices are made. Digg’s founder, Kevin Rose, gave up his life savings and even his girlfriend when he gambled on a new way to aggregate content. But it paid off in millions (and for millions of people). You can bet many of the other big household names performed similarly crazy stunts to get their products off the ground.
Like most things you see through a media lens, the truth is lies behind a few layers of fluff. But it’s encouraging, isn’t it? Knowing the dirty undersides of entrepreneurship can help you form the right perspective to take your ideas somewhere.