What a ride!
Right about now I am turning 9 years old as an entrepreneur. Almost a decade. It is crazy! Looking back, it almost feels like an important part of what defines me was born that year. Seen from where I’m standing now, it’s gone by with the speed of lightning, and at the same time, it also feels like a really long time ago.
Speaking of births, in a very weird way I can kind of thank the last company I worked for putting my back against the wall. Fired at almost 40 from a company I felt was morally bankrupt, but to which I was holding on to because they owed me several months’ salary and several years bonuses, I had a pretty clear idea about what I didn’t want for my next job. I also went through some difficult times personally. Mind you, this is not the moment in your life I recommend for you to start a business, but that’s how life is, those were the cards that I was dealt, and that’s what got me started.
What did I learn?
First of all, starting a business is an incredible journey during which you will discover things about you, you can`t imagine. Both the good, the bad and the ugly. “Journey”… I wish there was another word for it that didn’t sound as much as a cliché. Anyway, I would like to share a few things I faced, that taught me things I didn’t know were necessary for me to learn.
Can I really be SO motivated?
I have always enjoyed working and being around people. In fact, it goes further back than my professional life. In kinder garden, I was one of those that loved going to school. I might not have been the best doing homework, but once I was taught something it just stuck. I have also always liked to make an effort and deliver something I felt I could be proud of. So, of course, when I was given a new task I did my best to outperform what I thought was expected of me. I did my job and much more. I the first to arrive, I was there weekends, I did sales, delivery, proposed, taught, mentored, stood up for others and helped where I could. I’d describe myself as an “all in” employee.
Then I became independent and discovered that there were a completely new set of gears in my gearbox. It is difficult to describe it in another way than that I exploded! Never in my life have I been so motivated for anything. More days that I can count, I’ve been sitting up until the early morning to perfect proposals or a an article because I had a good idea or because it just had to be finished. Sometimes I sit and write emails and program them to be sent within working hours, so that it doesn’t look like I have no life. I’ve sent my family to visit the grandparents so that I could sneaked to work on (quite a few) Saturdays or Sundays – because I had 100 ideas at once – and still do. I spot ideas everywhere.
I have learned not to speak out loud about it all the time, but that doesn’t keep me from thinking about it everywhere. I have told my wife many times that she should say if I am talking business too much over dinner. She hasn’t done it yet, but then again she understands me better than anyone and supports me like no one.
Can do EVERYTHING is different
I knew that the shift from employee to self-employed would offer change. But I didn’t actually think that so much would be any different. But it was and it is… everything.
The only thing that’s the same is my professionalism, but the way I exercise it is different. The framework is different. The way to understand money and wages is completely different. Goals and visions are different. Colleague relationships are different. The day’s structure is different.
And then there is everything else that is not about my professionalism and about my work itself. All that a boss took care of, or an IT department, or a payroll office or a secretary isn’t there anymore. There’s just me. And it’s my responsibility to keep track of VAT, and taxes, and payroll, and proposals, and delivery, and public relations, and bill collection. And on the direction at all. And there’s only me to blame if it turns out there was something I didn’t have a handle on. Because yes, it’s just me to be in control of what I need to sort out.
Fortunately, my approach is that if I don’t know how to do one thing ot the other, I find out. I can honestly say that if I wasn’t built that way, and if I’d known how much I didn’t know I didn’t know before I took the step, I certainly wouldn’t have taken it. Thank God I was so naïve.
Nerd with geek on
I love nerds. I really do. People who know a lot about a subject. For example my mentor and the founder of the Adizes Institute, Dr. Ichak Adizes. He knows everything there was to know about Organizational Transformation. I think that’s great and I love talking and learning from him.
When I started my career I didn’t have the faintest idea that I myself was going to want to geek out in this field, but what I have learned is that you have to geek out, if you want to be successful in business. In fact, I also didn’t know until very shortly before I started in the field of Organizational Transformation that I was going meet such knowledgeable people as my customers and that they would be expecting so much from me.
It’s probably presumptuous to call myself an expert in my field just yet, because there is an incredible depth to it. That said, I am fortunate to be part of a worldwide team of very knowledgeable people. I hope that someday others will turn to me and call me a geek within my field. Until then I think that I have caught up quite a bit and I am loving it.
Who would have thought that I would be helping organizations change for the better, reaching their full potential, when I was immersing myself in international law. Not me, anyway.
Networking, what’s the smart thing about that?
“Networking is critical if you want to go places,” everyone said. This is really something that I have never had any doubts about. I remember my father talking over the dinner table about how important it was not only to work hard, but also to create solid relations. Later, in my first job I was mentored by Alfonso, a great man, both in size and in heart. He told me that the greatest gift he would be giving me, when I had earned it, was sharing with me his small pocketbook with telephone numbers (yes, this was before cellular phones, if anyone is wondering). He told me that it had taken him a lifetime to build. I didn’t really understand at the time, but after a couple of weeks following in his heals, I realized that there was not only one, but two things that made him powerful. Copying a list of contacts was not enough, that takes very little. Learning who to call with which problem takes a few weeks. The real task is to build a network that actually responds when you need them… and that takes a lifetime. My lesson to you is that people don’t care the least bit about your problems and even less helping you solve them, unless you have earned their help.
I see a lot of people, proud of the huge numbers of “friends” they have on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and any of the other social networks they have spent infinite time building and even invested money into growing. I will tell you plain and simple, if that is your idea of networking you are wasting your time.
Now I am not saying that social networks are a waste of time. What I am saying is that they are generally misunderstood for the purpose of networking. Networking is all about human interaction. I have met likeminded entrepreneurs, people that are more nerdy than me and people who think completely differently from me, people I can learn from, people who inspire – and who are fun to be with. Still the fundamental part of networking is not to put up a big number on how many digital-“friends” you have, but how many of the digital-“friends” you have been able meet and turn into real friends.
How much is laughter worth?
What I’ve been most surprised by – and most grateful for – are the good friends who have come into my life along the way. Imagine that more than a 100 Founders of great companies, CEO’s and VP get together each year to create this book.
Some of the people with whom I have the most fun, the most serious conversations and represent the most relevant part of my life these days, except for my family, I have met in a work context. These are people who do something completely different from me. They have coffee shops, jewelry shops, travel the world, build big and small empires. If I had not dared become an entrepreneur I would never have met them.
But luckily I did met them – and I enjoy meeting new interesting people every day. I’ve learned and laughed a lot with my new friends and I’m very grateful!
Nine years ago, I started from scratch. I didn’t know anything about anything compared to being self-employed and running a business. A lot has happened in these years. It’s been hard and it’s been fun. It’s been crazy and I expect it to continue being crazy. I’ve laughed and cried and worked hard. And I haven’t regretted it for a second.
If I could jump back in time
If I could jump back in time nine years and give myself some advice these would be the things I would tell myself.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
- Just do it. Nothing is as hard as you are imagining it to be.
- Try to find a regular customer/income that can pay the bills so you don’t have to worry about the economy all the time and start from zero every single month. (I actually got this advice from someone else, but I didn’t listen.)
- Don’t worry so much about what others are thinking.
- Listen to your gut feeling.
- Get a mentor as soon as possible – and choose one you’d trade business with.
And no, you can’t travel in time.
… but I’m actually not sure it would have made much difference if I could. Because I have come to the conclusion that there are some things that can only be learned through self-development and your own experience.
For the first time since I started nine years ago, I only do what I am passionate about – namely Organizational Transformation and Executive Search, teaching and writing for this book . I can’t wait to get down to the office every day and I get new ideas.
My energy level is grear and I look forward to being part of the Adizes Institute and seeing it grow into many more countries than we already have.
At the very end, there must be a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me – and continues to do so. This is especially true of my family, who have helped me in many ways over time.
I wonder what it all looks like in nine years from now. Or just one?
What do you think of my trip? I’ll be really happy if you’d like to share your immediate thoughts in a comment. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org