The (Unexpected) Truth About Being an Entrepreneur

by

Lisa Messenger offers advice to her twenty-something self.

You know the pregnancy book What To Expect When You’re Expecting? Well, when I took my first baby steps into the business world all those years ago, I wish someone had gifted me a book called What To Expect When You’re Entrepreneuring (note to self: copyright that title).

I imagine there are many similarities between running a start-up and having a baby – sleepless nights, indigestion, crying for no apparent reason. Of course, the end result – your miracle creation – is worth the emotional upheaval. But there will be times, during the gestation period, when you’ll wish you could go back to the night you’d come up with your great idea, and say to your brain, ‘Not tonight dear, I’ve got a headache’.

If I could go back to my twenty-something self, who is about to launch her first business, then I’d give her the following advice. I’d also tell her that every tantrum, every hiccup and bad smell will be worth it. Your life will never the same again, but you’d never want it to be.

1. Worries feel five times worse late at night

Few entrepreneurs are immune to insomnia to some degree or other, and sometimes all of the meditations CDs in the world are not going to put you to sleep again. So, when my brain is buzzing, I now give myself permission to get up and work because, well, I might as well be productive.

I remember a few issues into Collective Hub’s life, lying wide awake in bed, gripped with anxiety over the magazine’s finances. As the fear crept in on this lonely Saturday night, the monster grew bigger and bigger. So, rather than continue to tipsy-turvy fight the doona I decided to take action. By 6am the next morning, I had sent a detailed email to my management team and accountant outlining new potential revenue streams. As a result, I was able to wake up and enjoy my Sunday. Sometimes a nocturnal brain dump is all you need.

2. You’ll never switch off again

I’m a great advocate for work-life balance, but let’s be honest – once you’ve plugged yourself into the entrepreneurial power supply, there is no such thing as “switching off”. Not in the conventional sense, anyway.

Most entrepreneurs are slightly crazed people (and I say that with love) because their minds are in a constant flow of new ideas, inspired by everyday objects they see or conversations they overhear. That never stops, whether you’re watching a movie, out for lunch with friends or on honeymoon (is there a gap in the market for an online booking system for sun loungers?)

I remember when I was a schoolgirl, playing a game with my friends where we’d try to think of nothing. The problem is when you try to think of nothing, all you can think about is thinking about nothing… It’s torturous.

As an entrepreneur trying to force your mind to go blank is impossible, and why would you want to? I first came up with the idea for Collective Hub on a “relaxing” holiday in Morocco. Sometimes the best brainwaves come when you’re on the down-low.

3. Money does matter

In the start-up sector, there can be a sense of martyrdom around money – or our lack of it. When asked “what’s your purpose?” it’s not the done thing to say “I want to turn a profit.” The correct answer is, “I just want to make a difference” or “because I have a vision”. We’ve all heard stories of CEOs who didn’t pay themselves a salary for six years, who slept on a friend’s sofa and couldn’t afford light bulbs for the office.

For years, I thought money was dirty work. As a result, I prevented myself from making any significant money, sabotaged my dreams and held myself back. What I later learnt is that, without money, my ability to have a platform in the world or to make widespread positive changes are limited. I realised that having money and being a good person don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

I remember, when we interviewed Adam Garone, the co-founder of Movember for Collective Hub, he said he never uses the phrase “not-for-profit” to describe the movement. “We’re all about profit,” he said. “How else can we expect to continue to spread our message long term?”

Money is not my driver – not ever close – but it is a necessity. A thought is just a thought without financial backing, no matter how visionary it is.

4. You’ll lose friends and alienate people

There’s a good chance that, as you follow your untrodden path, some of the people you set off with might not be there at the finish line. You might even have to make the choice to leave select people behind for the sake of your own survival.

I saw a great quote on Instagram recently that read, “I am allergic to negative people”. How true this is! Unfortunately, pessimism can be contagious and sometimes you have to protect yourself, even if those naysayers have been in your life for years.

Just after Collective Hub began, I had to “break up” with my CFO for fourth months, despite the fact he’s a friend and my trusted ally for years. He couldn’t understand why I was taking what he saw as a huge financial risk by launching a magazine when I had zero magazine experience (he wasn’t the only one to say so!) The funny thing is, he’s now one of Collective Hub’s greatest supporters. We just needed some space to find ourselves, and that’s okay.

Sam

I love your posts Lisa. On the days when I want to throw it all in and wonder WTF am I doing, one of these gems seems to pop up. Thanks a bunch.

Reply
Kat

Great read! I’m going to give myself permission to indulge in those midnight brain dumps when I need to now!

Reply

We would love to hear your thoughts:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *