I grew up in a family where entrepreneurship is shunned and something to be ashamed of. My elder brothers flung their exams and were forced to apprentice with various contractors, and started their businesses when opportunity so dictates. And for many years they eked out a living that bothers between the jobless and the freelancer – that is, neither making enough to live in big houses, nor little enough to consider it quit.
From a young age I was told to study hard and get a job in a large corporation. Like in a bank. And that was the only passport to riches beyond my dream. When I graduated from college, all my college mates wanted to work for large companies. The bigger the better. That was the definition of success.
Entrepreneurship then, was for people who failed in their studies. Or who couldn’t get a proper job. Like in a bank.
Fast track to the recent now. All of a sudden (or maybe not such a sudden), we are made to believe that entrepreneurship is the golden ticket to success. That working for others is for losers. Companies large and small are finding it hard to keep good staff. Nobody wants to be just an employee anymore.
The internet has helped pushed entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg (Suck-a-what?) into mega celebrity’s status. Books, films and TV shows are made around their stories. At least the part where they win the game and get the girls. After all, if a 24-year old can make billions over the internet, what’s stopping another 24-year old from doing so?
But no one ever really features the millions of other Richards and Marks who have tried and failed. Who have mortgaged their houses, sold their cars, used up their kid’s education funds, and then failed miserably in business. Many soldiered on despite the failure. Not because they were determined and wouldn’t let go. But because they can no longer go back to becoming employees, nor face the shame of having failed.
Nor has anyone cared to learn of the failures of those who have now succeeded. It’s certainly not sexy to tell of how Steve Jobs thoroughly made a mess of the likes of Apple Lisa, g4 cube and other such products that Apple would rather not talk about anymore. Or how Bill Gates (and best friend Paul Allen) almost went broke with Traf-O-Data, way before they founded Microsoft. Or nearer home, how Tony Fernandes have to eat humble pie when he gave up a monopoly flying propellers in Sabah and Sarawak, just a year after declaring he’s going to revolutionize things there. Oh no, no one wants to hear about failures.
Yet it is failures that most entrepreneurs can and should expect. And failures aren’t the only bad news for would-be entrepreneurs. The hours are often longer, not shorter, than an average employee. Yes, one may get to go to the office anytime one fancies, but that often leads to 12-hour days that end way past midnight. And those who think becoming entrepreneurs mean bigger houses and larger cars – think again. Most entrepreneurs, at least those who are starting out, live a pauper life – never certain if and when the money will start rolling in. It explains why airline business classes are filled with managers on expenses account, rather than the entrepreneurs who pay for those.
If entrepreneurship in itself isn’t challenging enough, there’s the government and society who blames entrepreneurs for all the ills of the world. Petrol price too high? Tax the entrepreneurs. Housing is becoming unaffordable? It’s the entrepreneurs’ fault.
If all these sound familiar and you have done all that, and wouldn’t mind doing it all over again, then congratulations, you have finally found the glory of entrepreneurship. If you haven’t, then it’s time to decide if you want all the risks and untold hazards of entrepreneurship. Or choose a safe, high paying job. Like in a bank.