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Entrepreneurship - when and why?

Published On: 25 Jan 2011 | Last Updated On: 24 Jan 2012

People often have this question in mind - Should I become an Entrepreneur or not? What are the risks involved, whats the return, etc. Reading about top entrepreneurs in newspapers everyday is fun and very inspiring, but it is important to understand the basic motivations and behaviors needed to cultivate entrepreneurship and be successfull.

In one of his articles, Harvard Business School professor Michael Jensen states that that being an entrepreneur is an irrational state of being. If human beings were purely rational, evaluative, value maximizing individuals they would not start companies. If they SAT down and did the expected value creation by laying out the probability-weighted outcomes of being an entrepreneur as compared to taking a safe job, it would not pencil out.

Yet, entrepreneurship is not simply a rational journey. It is one that is defined by passion and personal satisfaction that transcends purely financial analysis. And, of course, there is always the hope for the big payout, no matter how long the odds.

Despite popular wisdom to the contrary, it has been found through research that age is not a major factor in the decision to start a company. The Kauffman Foundation reports that the median age of founders is 39 - right at the midpoint of a typical professional career - and 69% are 35 or older. Another study by Washington University professors of 86,000 science and engineering graduates showed that age was not a significant predictor of becoming an entrepreneur.

So, if you keep on thinking about entrepreneurship, here are a list of questions that you should ask yourself, Jeffrey Bussgang mentions, who is author of the famous book "Mastering the VC Game"

Do you have an idea that no one can talk you out of?

When you bounce your start-up idea off your spouse, friends and trusted advisors, are they able to raise enough objections that you begin to doubt whether the idea has merit. Getting honest, objective advice can be hard because the people you are likely to go to care about you and may be afraid to tell you what they really think for fear of offending you. Thus, you need to get feedback from objective parties (e.g., advisors, experts, prospective angel or VC investors with whom you don't have a deep personal relationship).

Do you have a partner you trust with complimentary skills? 

Starting a company is a lonely adventure. Having a partner that you can trust and whose skillset and experience is complimentary to yours can be a huge functional and emotional benefit.

Are you prepared to endure with modest or no salary for a few years? 

Founding a company often means making personal sacrifices and below-market cash compensation. All the talk about "lean start-ups" (which I'm a big fan of) sometimes obscures the practical reality of what it means to eat through your personal savings. It is important to have the appetitte to take risks and play for the longer term, instead of dropping guard when one or two failuers come in the way.

Are you bored with your current work environment/life situation?

There is nothing boring about being an entrepreneur. More apt adjectves might include stimulating, engrossing, obsessive, exhilarating, nerve-racking - but not boring. If you are tired of viewing your work as a chore and if every day is a bit of a grind, then entrepreneurship is for you. I find that the intrinsic motivation behind an aspiring entrepreneur is sometimes the simplest - because it's fun. Seeking fun can transcend all other factors.

Do you perform best in the absence of structure? 

The book,  "Mastering the VC Game"  describes a metaphor for the three stages of a start-up: the jungle, the dirt road and the highway. In the earliest stages of a venture - the jungle - there are no clear paths available and the skills required are to thrive in the midst of the chaos. For those who possess that makeup, being a start-up executive is an excellent fit. But for those that like clear paths with little uncertainty and a great deal of structure - the highway - an early-stage venture will feel like a very uncomfortable environment.

Reflecting on these questions,it is intriguing to reflect on what kind of environment - either from the perspective of parents raising their children or policy makers thinking about encouraging entrepreneurial ecosystems - can be created to foster more entrepreneurship? Most of the times, there is definite inspiration from near family and friends that makes one get to the road of entrepreneurship.  Parents are a very important motivation, and it has been found that parents who provide chidlren an open atmosphere for growth and actively support success and failures give a very good environment for people to become entrepreneurs at a later point in time.

Celebrating entrepreneurial success stories and putting folks like Bill Gates, Larry Page, Bharti Mittal, Kiran Manekshaw, Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji etc. on magazine covers and in front of audiences is obviously a huge factor. Every college kid looks at Mark Zuckerburg and thinks, "Why not me?" Why not, indeed?

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