I frequently get asked by my friends and colleagues “so what’s it like running a small company that competes with the larger firms?” As tempting as it is to respond with a quick “it’s great!” sometimes that statement is far from the truth. Though the benefits are obvious which I will cover in a future blog but if you are thinking about starting your own company here are some things to consider upfront.
1. The “Work-Life Balance” Myth
I tend to manage my energy but not time because running a business and expecting to work only 8 hours a day is a complete myth. You live, eat and breath business in order to survive and thrive in a competitive market but that’s what makes it all fun. Your work will never end and there is always something to do to serve your customers better or improving internal business practices. You tend to break up your time between work and taking care of the family – there is absolutely no time to waste even my “relaxation” time tends to be scheduled.
2. Failure Ahead
In order to learn, we are told to take classes, acquire degrees, certifications and attend seminars but in business the natural course of learning is through tremendous amounts of failures. I remember my first sales meeting with a client, I got so excited about the work that I forgot to ask for the sale and it never happened. This may seem obvious now but at that moment, I was just excited to do some cyber security work that I am very passionate about. You are continuously forced to reevaluate and prepare for the next day based on failures of yesterday.
3. Risky Road
Business and risk go hand in hand – that’s no secret but what I did learn is that risk taking is a continuous ongoing activity. In order to go after larger work, you must invest your funds into great things whether it’s expensive software or expensive people. No one wants to work with a start up company that doesn’t risk their investment in people or required tools for the job. A great deal of my funding goes towards continuously retooling and retraining my work force to meet the ever-changing demands of customers and technology. You must be comfortable with managing uncertainty and taking risks at all times - If there is no risk than there is no reward.
4. Continuously learning
You should not go into business you do not like reading, writing, speaking or thinking obsessively about your customers problems and how to solve them. Your customer’s problems are not always related to your product or service offering therefore you will often dive into subject that you dislike. As a cyber-security professional services firm, we are continuously solving non-technical and regulatory issues. This is part of “learning to learn” continuously, quickly and forever as the world evolves. Psychologists call this “learning agility” – this is not an academic skill, rather it describes a passion to quick study new problems to make decisions. You will also take on learning new disciplines, such as bookkeeping, inventory control, market research, etc…
5. You work for free
Yes, that’s right – you work for free! Our target customers are generally large and have something to loose such as regulatory data, intellectual property or just plain reputation in context of cyber security. These customers generally don’t make decision over night - in fact, it can take years for a single sale! You spend majority of your time solving their problems, writing white papers and creating presentations. I recall one customer asked us to prototype real software in hopes of showing our value without any income to show for it. There are different reasons why this happens but the point is that you end up doing a lot without getting much back. It’s the worst when the potential customer leads you to believe that there is a budget for an item that he has asked you to work on. You provide what they are looking for and then they use your approach without involving you or paying you. Yes, I have had that happen on few occasions; one customer even told me this and was nice about it.
Long hours, failure, risk, uncertainty, always learning and working for free are all part of early stages of a Start-up Company that I have experienced. You give more than you take but somehow in the end it all works out. I do ask my self - Am I doing things wrong?
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