Why do stories of successful entrepreneurs rarely touch upon the dark, sordid and untold rejections that are far more representative of entrepreneurship? Perhaps because stories of misery, depression, anxiety, fear and doubt hardly qualify as inspirational. Or, possibly, because nobody really wants to read about a first-time entrepreneur’s uncontrollable desire to crawl under his or her desk and hide in a fetal position.
In reality, the stories of first-time entrepreneurs are rarely inspirational and sexy, because, much like the search for true love, entrepreneurship always starts out awkward and clumsy, clouded in insecurity and wrecked by numerous surprises along the way. Here are just a few of the surprises first-time entrepreneurs can expect.
1. You will not have enough cash -- ever.
Many first-time entrepreneurs fall right out of the gate, because they fail to accurately determine how much money they need to develop and launch an idea. Those who make it out of the gate soon realize that cash is king, and maintaining or raising enough capital is as close to an impossibility as growing your own money tree.
2. Your degree will make a great wall ornament.
All the business models and four-by-four matrices you learn in school will prepare you very little for the ridiculous deluge of unknowns on your first day of entrepreneurship. Ultimately, the best piece of advice I received as a young professional, going to school and taking jobs for experience, was this: The only way to learn what it is like to be an entrepreneur is to become one.
3. You know very little.
Entrepreneurs are confident, but what hurts most new entrepreneurs is overconfidence. Believing you know everything and have all the right answers will quickly be replaced with a very large helping of "humble pie" on day one.
4. You are not Superman or Superwoman.
First-time entrepreneurs quickly learn that you really cannot succeed alone. In order to grow and sustain a successful business, you need to surround yourself with qualified and talented people -- often much more qualified and talented than you.
5. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Understanding that you cannot do it alone leads to the sobering reality that you may need one or more partners. Having a great partner can help relieve stress and reduce work and responsibilities, and shared ownership is a powerful motivator and an effective way to attract and retain great talent. It means, however, that you need to give up some level of ownership and control -- a difficult pill to swallow for many new entrepreneurs.
6. You will eventually put someone out of a job.
One of the most difficult acts an entrepreneur will do is terminating someone from the company. The first time you ever do so, it will be terribly uncomfortable and shrouded in disdain and hurt feelings. It is a necessary burden, however, whether it be to eliminate someone who is adding little value or to weather economic conditions.
7. You must be a leader.
Because you now have stakeholders, you need to lead them. Leadership is not always a natural trait for new entrepreneurs, and while leadership can be learned, entrepreneurs need to be prepared to step into the role on day one.
8. You are responsible for everything.
For some first-time entrepreneurs who have always worked in teams or as a subordinate, the fact that there is no longer anybody above them to pass along responsibility and blame can be a harsh reality.
9. You can kiss your free time goodbye.
The expectation that entrepreneurs set their own schedules is not altogether true -- unless you understand that your business is your schedule. Moreover, first-time entrepreneurs are rarely prepared for the "entrepreneur’s curse" or the irritable and conflicting emotions you have when being busy means never having personal time, but not being busy means there is probably something wrong with your business.
10. You control almost nothing.
Entrepreneurs love to be in control, but most will learn immediately that the vast majority of problems and challenges are completely out their control. The sooner you learn this, the sooner you can turn your focus on resolving those challenges you can control.
11. Nobody wants you to fail.
The fear and stigma of failure is what prevents many people from every endeavoring into entrepreneurship. What new entrepreneurs realize quickly is that failing is in nobody's best interest, so all of your stakeholders will work with you -- as long as you have not burned bridges along the way -- through difficult times.
12. But you will fail.
About the only thing certain about entrepreneurship is that success rarely comes without failure. Failure just might be the single most effective way of learning every lesson on this list, and it is only when entrepreneurs learn to embrace and learn from failures can they recover from each and every one and emerge as a better entrepreneur.
Rarely in life do we get the opportunity to excel at something on our first try. In fact, it is through iterations that we become truly good at anything. As long as first-time entrepreneurs understand this, they will be less phased by the myriad of surprises facing them on their first attempt.
Just know, however, that you may need a few personal sessions crouched and hiding under your desk to realize all of this -- and there is no shame in this.