Co-owning a young catering supply company, Restaurantware in Chicago that's appeared in the Inc 500 for the first time this year, has been one hell of a ride. Our team hustles day in and day out to develop and manufacture eco-friendly restaurant supplies for some of the biggest institutional food supply companies in the US. Every day is a delicious, passionate struggle to make the world a more greener place, to innovate, and to make money to hire and financially support our great employees and ourselves. But what do entrepreneurs, as I am no doubt classified, actually do and what's in our minds? Do we have secrets? Are there myths?
We aren't cocky; in fact we agonize over every presentation
There's a myth that entrepreneurs are inherently cocky, swashbuckling, system-bucking renegades who think our shit doesn't stink. That's false. Most entrepreneurs are riddled with insecurities, bound by known (competition) and unknown (outside investors or customers) forces that strike smiles or fear in our souls daily. Every investor presentation we do has to be perfect. Our answers have to be (mostly) perfect. Every client we pitch to as a young company is a nerve-wracking challenge because the percentage of new business they represent is very high compared to established companies whose clients may represent just a small amount of revenues. There's no room for cockiness and few entrepreneurs act like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.
Entrepreneurs don't always use the word entrepreneur when describing themselves
First of all, entrepreneur is a 12-lettered word of foreign origin and that's bad enough. But most entrepreneurs simply tell people what they do, straight up, by industry, sharing their big idea as a conversation starter. There's no cloakery or subterfuge, being evasive or vagaries like, "What do I do? Oh, I'm an entrepreneur". That's a conversation killer, not a conversation starter.
Not all entrepreneurs are funded, nor are they rich even if they are funded
A lot of entrepreneurs in the "self-employed" bucket aren't even self-employed, they're self-unemployed. It can take months or even years to get ideas off the ground, to get business plans written, to get funded, to hire teams, to start operations, and then finally produce the services and products that eventually hit the market. During this time there's no money coming in, so we're living off savings, or loans, or monies from past successful exits until outside funding comes in. And when and if others believe in our ideas, and investments are closed, it doesn't mean that salaries are high (most simply budget a comfortable living wage) or riches have suddenly been bestowed upon us. New businesses have to prove themselves both viable and lasting, and only then can entrepreneurs contemplate cashing in, but frequently only after investors take their dollars out first. Going public? That's another financial story altogether.
All entrepreneurs spend ungodly numbers of hours trying to be creative
Innovation can only be born from idea generation, so it's vital to keep fresh, to keep creative and perhaps that's what entrepreneurs do best. While employees in the general population spend their hours working and delivering ROI for their employers, entrepreneurs spend ungodly numbers of hours just creatively thinking about better, faster, newer mousetraps. That's our job in the beginning, the middle and the end of each work day. Managing and delivering on promises are vitally important, but being creative thinkers is our lifeblood. We love downtime, spending time with friends, out of the office, having cocktails or networking because those creative juices need to keep flowing in non-work, stress-free environments. That can't be achieved by working 24/7 until we burn out.
Entrepreneurs are grateful when we get a yes and not angry when we get a no
We have insatiable competitive drives to win; that's absolutely true. But we're humbled and grateful every single time a great employee on-boards with us, or investors validate our ideas, or we sign new clients that believe that writing us checks is good for their business. That makes us feel like winners, and no amount of no's between those yes's will dissuade us from our objectives and dreams. We're glass half full kind of people, always, and each time rejection knocks, we bootstrap, remembering the highs of the yes's.
Entrepreneurship is for single people
This is absolutely true, or at least true when it comes to marriage and starting families. We're married to ideas, business plans, grand visions, and delivering on promises or we get eaten alive and shut down. Our children are our products and services and to some degree, our employees - these are the things we nurture and mold and watch grow up before our very eyes. We work so much, we often don't have the time or dollars to devote to relationships, marriage and starting families. Entrepreneurship is for risk-takers, not the risk-averse. We are typically people in our 20's and early 30's who think of weddings and childbirth as future concepts in our 40's.
Most entrepreneurs are wired to win and have more than one idea
If at first we don't succeed, we will try and try again. Restaurantware, my company, is doing great and the awards and media accolades we've received have been awesome. But I, like most entrepreneurs, have ideas swimming in my head. If something happened to my company and we had to shut down, I'd be sad for a week or two, then work on other ideas. Ideas breed ideas, and it's that amazing creative process, that keeps me feeling like a winner because I'm simply, unapologetically and thankfully wired that way.