Before you start a company, better read this

Aspiring entrepreneurs frequently ask me one thing they should know before starting a company; and recently, a university magazine asked me to write an article about the same topic for their students.

I wrote my answer. The magazine didn’t like it.  Said it was too negative and so changed it to be made more palatable to wide-eyed teenagers.  Now here it is, in my little corner of the universe, the original in all its unedited glory.

So you are in school and want to be an entrepreneur. I was there too in 2007 after graduating with an MBA from Stanford University. My first start-up failed. The second one made money. And now I’m on my third riding the roller coaster that is entrepreneurship.

Before you take that leap, here’s my advice.

It’s going to be really, really hard. So you got to believe in your vision, in the problem you want to solve, because it won’t make sense any other way.

Your stock has never been higher with your brand new, shiny university degree. You’ve graduated from a top school and full of promise. You’ve done no wrong. Your friends envy you and your parents respect you.

That will change if you do a start-up. 90% of start-ups fail and yours will probably be in that group; those are the odds, bet on it. So after years of working harder than you’ve ever worked before, and earning less hourly than you could have at McDonald’s, your company will probably close. You would have done wrong. Your friends will look at you differently and your parents will worry and nag.

Meanwhile, that annoying first class honours student who played it safe and joined a bank would be earning a six figure income. He’s driving an Audi, eating in posh places like Andre’s, clubbing at Mink and dating that super-hot girl. He’s got the kind of brand name experience on his resume that’s a springboard to anywhere else. (He could easily be a she; reverse as desired.)

This is the price you pay if you do a start-up, and it’s real no matter how sexily the media dresses up entrepreneurship. The only way this cost makes sense is if you believe in your vision; to the point where it doesn’t even matter if you fail while pursuing it — the act of trying is enough.

I am just about the laziest guy in the world when it comes to going out. I hate faraway places; I want to eat and drink, attend cool events and do things that are close by. The problem is I never know what’s happening in the neighbourhoods I live in and work at. I’m sure I can find the info if I look hard enough on Google or Facebook or Timeout…but who has time for that? Thus feecha, my start-up, was born: it’s the best way to see what’s happening in a location. We do that by gathering content from newspapers, magazines, blogs and other apps and organizing them around neighborhoods. Think of feecha as a Flipboard for Boon Lay, a Flipboard for Holland Village, and so on.

The point is that you have to solve a problem you care about. Otherwise, the hours, the doubts, the persistent lack of money, the decisions that proved wrong, the friend you recruited who turned out poisonous…all those things will wear on you. You must believe in what you do, otherwise the price is too steep.

So you want to be an entrepreneur. Are you ready?

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