Some of your friends are doing it. People who do it are in the front pages and web almost every day. Even President Obama is talking about it. So should you do it? Should you join the millions of people every year who take the plunge and start their first ventures? I’ve learned in my own years as an entrepreneur — and now an entrepreneurship professor — that there is a gut level “fit” for people who are potential entrepreneurs. There are strong internal drivers that compel people to create their own business. I’ve developed a 2–minute Isenberg Entrepreneur Test, below, to help you find out. Just answer yes or no. Be honest with yourself — remember from my last post: the worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
1. I don’t like being told what to do by people who are less capable than I am.
2. I like challenging myself.
3. I like to win.
4. I like being my own boss.
5. I always look for new and better ways to do things.
6. I like to question conventional wisdom.
7. I like to get people together in order to get things done.
8. People get excited by my ideas.
9. I am rarely satisfied or complacent.
10. I can’t sit still.
11. I can usually work my way out of a difficult situation.
12. I would rather fail at my own thing than succeed at someone else’s.
13. Whenever there is a problem, I am ready to jump right in.
14. I think old dogs can learn — even invent — new tricks.
15. Members of my family run their own businesses.
16. I have friends who run their own businesses.
17. I worked after school and during vacations when I was growing up.
18. I get an adrenaline rush from selling things.
19. I am exhilarated by achieving results.
20. I could have written a better test than Isenberg (and here is what I would change ….)
If you answered “yes” on 17 or more of these questions, look at your paycheck (if you are lucky enough to still get one). If the company that issued the check isn’t owned by you, it is time for some soul searching: Do you have debts to pay? Kids in college? Alimony? Want to take it easy? Maybe better to wait. Do you have a little extra cash in the bank and several credit cards? Do you have a spouse, partner, friends, or kids who will cheer you on? If so, start thinking about what kind of business you want to set up. It doesn’t matter what age you are: research by the Kauffman Foundation shows that more and more over–50s are setting up their own businesses. Talk to people who have made the plunge, learn how to plan and deliver a product or service, think about that small business you might buy, talk to people with whom you would like to work, and talk to customers.
“I like to take risks” is not on the list. People don’t choose to be entrepreneurs by opting for a riskier lifestyle. What they do, instead, is reframe the salary vs. entrepreneur choice as between two different sets of risk: the things they don’t like about having a steady job — such as the risk of boredom, working for a bad boss, lack of autonomy, lack of control over your fate, and getting laid off — and the things they fear about being an entrepreneur — possible failure, financial uncertainty, shame or embarrassment, and lost investment. In the end, people who are meant to be entrepreneurs believe that their own abilities (e.g. leadership, resourcefulness, pluck, hard work) or assets (e.g. money, intellectual property, information, access to customers) significantly mitigate the risks of entrepreneurship. Risk is ultimately a personal assessment: what is risky for me is not risky for you.
“I want to get rich” is not on the list either. All else being equal (and all else is rarely equal in the real world), on the average, people who set up their own businesses don’t make more money, although a few do succeed in grabbing the brass ring. But the “psychic benefits” — the challenge, autonomy, recognition, excitement, and creativity — make it all worthwhile.
Daniel Isenberg is a Professor of Management Practice, Babson College