Editor’s Note: MVCA member Brandon Evans is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of 1Heart, a conscious startup studio investing in and building the next generation of conscious businesses.
It’s hard to tell with these internet startups if they’re really interested in building companies or if they’re just interested in the money. I can tell you, though: If they don’t really want to build a company, they won’t luck into it. That’s because it’s so hard that if you don’t have a passion, you’ll give up. — Steve Jobs
I’ve been building startups since I was twenty-three. Every time someone asks me what I do and I have to say “I’m a startup founder or entrepreneur”, I cringe. Usually the person I am talking to gives a confused, unsatisfied look. I don’t blame them. What does that really mean?
In my nearly twenty years of building companies, I’ve been fortunate to have some success. As a result, I have been asked to speak to fellow entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs often. In doing so, there is one question that frequently comes up that bothers me the most.
The question usually starts with some or all of these pre qualifiers, “I recently finished college and majored in entrepreneurship. I’ve been reading a ton of books about startups. I read Tech Crunch or (insert important VC’s) blog all the time. My Mom/Dad/Sister has their own business…”
The question then continues with something along the lines of, “How do I know what business I should start?” My first thought is, “Who says you should start a business?”
Being an entrepreneur is not a career. It is not something that you should major in in college. None of the above qualify you to start your own company. Starting a company, especially a high growth startup like those I am most familiar with, takes deep desire and is hard work. Most will fail. The pay is very low unless you are one of the 10% or less with a successful exit.
Starting companies feels quite glamorous. It certainly has it’s moments. But here is a gut check to determine if you are ready to to be a startup founder. If you can answer these three questions, you are on your way to finding success and fulfillment.
1. Are your passions aligned?
Given the tough road ahead, it is critical that you are solving a problem that you actually care about. I can’t tell you what that is, nor can a book or college degree. You must dig deep, tap into a problem that hits close to home and excites you to solve. In short, you need to find your purpose.
Jason Silva posted this great video on finding your passion. He advises to start by making a list of all the things you are curious about. Then, determine where three or more of the things you are curious about intersect, that is your passion. Finally, look at the world and determine fifteen challenges in the world you would like to see solved. Determine which of those challenges could be served by your passion and that is your purpose.
Your passion doesn’t have to be what you were meant to spend your entire life doing though you’ll create the most fulfillment if it is. For some following some initial passions may serve as a step that gets you closer to your ultimate purpose.
My two successful startups were not my purpose, but they were based on problems I was excited and highly qualified to solve. But, I ultimately burnt out. It has taken me nearly forty years of life to start pursuing my purpose. While I wish I had been wise enough to align more deeply with my purpose at a young age, I did gain a lot in starting each company.
Both of my startups helped Fortune 500 companies market via social and digital platforms. At the time, this was cutting edge stuff. I became highly skilled and a thought leader in these areas which is a major asset for me now.
Most importantly, I was able to build two amazing cultures (both companies were Top 3 Places to work in New York) and mentor future leaders. This experience ties deeply to my true purpose of helping entrepreneurs build conscious businesses. My purpose has led me to create 1heart, which I believe will become my life’s work.
2. Do you have the necessary life experience?
Get a job or two, travel, move cities and speak to a lot of people. While I started my first company at a young age, I spent two years as a consultant at a large tech firm consulting with several Fortune 500 companies learning from MBAs from top schools. I was based out of Chicago but was on the road for almost the entire time working 60+ hours a week.
I then became a Brand Manager in New York and experienced life as a client and brand owner. A relationship I made there allowed me to start my first business while still employed, with nearly no upfront capital.
I can attribute almost every aspect of my initial success to my experience at both of these companies. The companies I built served Fortune 500 clients, and brands like the one I managed. I knew the playbook selling to and working at these companies. I intimately knew the struggles and the opportunities. Neither of my companies would have been successful without my earlier experience.
There have been some highly successful college dropouts like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. In each case, they dropped out to pursue a specific opportunity that turned out to be their life purpose. They were called to solve a particular problem, they didn’t just want to be an entrepreneur.
3. Are you creating value?
Passion and life experience are not enough. The main reason you should build a startup is because you have something of value to create that the world needs.
Unfortunately, this often seems to be the most often overlooked aspect of becoming an entrepreneur. It is the most critical. We do not need more products, we need solutions to important problems.
To understand the worst of our consumerist society, look at Fail Chips. These are potato chips that come broken into small pieces. Are there really people who prefer broken chips but are too lazy to crumple their own chips and enjoy paying a premium for this? This is just one of the many ridiculous businesses launched every week that adds zero value. Fortunately, this one is not real, it’s a marketing campaign by Mailchimp. But given the many useless businesses we see daily, I was fooled. I can’t be the only one.
The easiest way to ensure success as an entrepreneur is to create something that people actually need. Solve a real problem they face. Make life easier, better and healthier. Create joy not stuff.
Study the world, those around you and your own life. Be curious, ask questions and come from a place of service. If you are awake, tuned in and focused on helping others, you will have no issue identifying problems that need a solution.
The things we create end up creating us. — Jim Rohn
Building companies from scratch, especially high growth ones is not for the faint of heart. It takes real commitment, desire and grit. If you are not able to answer all three of these questions, success will be difficult and burnout probable. Create a solution to a problem you truly care about. Find a problem you are uniquely qualified to solve, which creates real value. If you do, you will receive fulfillment and often financial rewards.
Ask yourself the right questions, and you will feel called to start your company. The problem will claw at you, beg you to solve it. You will obsess over it, think about it in the shower, dream about it at your day job. That’s when you know.