It’s About the (Full Time) Work: Mark Lassoff on What It Takes to Be a Successful Entrepreneur
I’m not the world’s greatest entrepreneur.
I’m not the smartest guy out there. I graduated in the half of my class that made the upper half of the class possible. I can’t solve all the problems in my own business and I have a few giant blind spots when it comes to my own work performance. (Some people would even argue that I’m not that nice of a guy).
But despite my shortcomings, there is one thing that I do very, very well: I work.
I work with a degree of focus and goal-orientation that I believe has been the singular reason for the successes I’ve been blessed with. Other entrepreneurs may be smarter, better educated, and likely better looking – but I will outwork them all. I will make more phone calls, write more emails, and fly more miles to make my business a success.
In my opinion, if there is any secret to entrepreneurship it’s this: Shut up and work.
Sure, you may have a good idea. Your idea may even be brilliant. Sadly, success isn’t about the idea. It’s about the execution.
And while you’re hanging on to your full-time time job and working on your venture 10 hours a week, you simply can’t execute. If I’m working 65-75 hours a week and I’ve only now reached a point of profitability where I can truly scale, how will you do it in 10? Maybe you really are that much better at this than I am?
True entrepreneurship is not a part-time vocation. Going to meetups and pitching doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. Starting a business and growing it does.
You can start a dry cleaner and be an entrepreneur. It’s not original. It’s not sexy. But it is work and risky and worthy of commendation. It’s also worth noting that the dry cleaner likely has customers and money coming in. I don’t know any part-timers who can claim profits.
If you expect to grow a business, you simply can’t complete all the tasks required in a few hours a week. Yes, I realize there are exceptions, but you’re probably not one of them. Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses don’t require a lot of money to start, but they do require a lot of time. No one is going to do the marketing, measurement, customer acquisition, public relations strategy, customer service, promotion, and development for you. It’s about the work, and unless you’re at this full time (or more than full time, I might argue) you’re not doing it.
According to David Cummings, founder of Atlanta Tech Village, “It’s extremely difficult to get a business off the ground working nights and weekends on it. (I know of only one entrepreneur, out of hundreds I’ve met, that was able to do it.)”
Connecticut is not at all unique in having mostly part-time entrepreneurs. All of the successful entrepreneurs I know in the state are working on their venture full time. While the amount of work and time to do it is critical, there is another factor that works against the part-time entrepreneur: urgency. If you’re already making a good living at a full time vocation, what’s the urgency to make your venture succeed?
I have to make my company, LearnToProgram, Inc., successful. There really is no other choice. Not only do I support myself, but also a growing payroll of nine people in Connecticut and four overseas. These are people who were courageous to assume some of the risk of a new startup with me, and I owe them a lot more than a paycheck. As cool as Lean Startup thinks failure is, it’s really not an option for me.
So I work.
Sadly, I think many have the success formula wrong. Popular media has promoted a “Shark Tank” culture among entrepreneurs. If my idea is good enough, some rich daddy (or momma) will give me 200 grand and I’m set. It’s a ridiculous departure from the reality. The formula isn’t “idea + twitter magic = riches.”
The true formula is work + idea + work + luck = success.
You want to be an entrepreneur? That’s great. However, if you’re still doing it part time, you’re in the minor leagues. The good news is, you don’t need a promotion to move up to the majors. You just have to step up. The choice is yours.