Harvard Business Online: “Don’t Wait Too Long to Become an Entrepreneur”

Earlier this month, the folks at the Harvard Business Online site asked me to do a “Conversation Starter” blog post on their site about the challenges faced by people transitioning from being big-company employees to becoming entrepreneurs.

The result was posted two weeks ago. More than three dozen comments later (thank you to everyone who contributed there!), I posted my thoughts on some of the recurring themes from the comments. That summary can be found at the end of the post.

(They’ve now asked me to turn that Conversation Starter dialogue into a piece in an upcoming Harvard Business Review special issue on leadership transitions.)

Feel free to post here your own stories, observations, and insights about the pros and cons of such transitions, or about how to tell when it’s the right time to leap!

  1. Hey Professor Wasserman,Thanks for your post. It’s a good conversation starter for sure. I read through some of the comments and walked away with even new ideas and some questions.I think one thing that stands out the most to me is that becoming a “jack-of-all trades” is crucial for the entrepreneur in the starting phases of a small business. The question for me becomes, for entrepreneurs who wish to get Investors putting a lot of money in their new ventures so they can assemble a team of professionals, etc, do you think it is still necessary for the entrepreneur to be a jack-of-all trades? Or can’t he just hire people in the areas that he is weak at to compensate?Secondly, I think the case you make that people start shouldn’t wait forever to start is crucial. Most people end up thinking “I wish I could’ve…” or “I wish I would’ve…” And go their lives feeling unaccomplished. Or even worse, always waiting for the “right opportunity.” While that opportunity never comes. However, I also think that before launching in, people should have a loose strategy, and have gotten at least a substantial amount of savings just in case their first business goes under or they encounter financial difficulties. Something like say enough to live off of without any income for around 6 to 12 months, perhaps?I’m curious as to what your ideas are on this.Thanks professor.- Marc Goodman

  2. Thanks for the comments and questions, Marc! Hope all’s well out East.If the entrepreneur (1.) has a small number of well-defined holes, and (2.) is in a business that is relatively stable (i.e., won’t be changing its strategy, business model, etc., in unexpected ways), then it’s possible to hire others to fill those holes. (In fact, investors will often prefer to invest in a more complete team, rather than bet on a single person.) However, if those conditions aren’t met, then that approach will pose several problems.I do agree that it is a mistake to jump ship purely for the sake of jumping ship. You should have a clear idea of what your new business will be. That’s why the original Harvard Business Online piece ended with the line, “So even if you’re early in your corporate career, <>when a winning new-business idea comes along<> and sparks an entrepreneurial passion in you, carpe diem.” (emphasis added) Having a cushion, whether via savings or a severance package, can definitely help extend the amount of time you can spend honing and launching the venture.

  3. Prof. Wasserman:I just wanted to say thanks for the piece in HBR. It was insightful and rekindled by entrepreneurial passions. It also brought be to your blog which has me even more excited.Thanks, again.Charles Johns

  4. Having read Goodman in China’s contribution,I can only agree with him. From our own experience, when the 3 of us got started, although we were all electrical engineers, each had a flair for certain aspects of running a business, eg Finance, Marketing and HR which were then allocated accordingly. I guess for entrepreneurs who start out on their own, they would then need ot be fairly good all-rounders. In the early stages of the busniess, it may not be necessary to have someone for HR, Finance,Marketing etc as this would burden the nascent business. The entrepreneur would do well in my view to know enough about these to get the business started.Yes it is important to have some savings because usually there is no income from the business for the first 3 or 4 months and perhaps even longer. In our case, our first invoice was after 6 months and was only for the equivalent of US$1 000! Without the savings, we would definitely have gone under.Of course as the business grows, operations become more and more complex and requires people with Finance, HR and Marketing skills among others. My question however, is Does a good entrepreneur necessarily make a good business manager? Is the Ideas Man necessarily the good business manager? If not, is this perhaps what leads to serial entrepreneurs? From pearson@rpsengineering.co.za

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  8. This is so true! Putting things off is never the way to go about achieving your goals.

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  9. I do agree that it is a mistake to jump ship purely for the sake of jumping ship. You should have a clear idea of what your new business will be.

  10. I think a lifestyle entrepreneur places passion before profit when launching a business in order to combine personal interests and talent with the ability to earn a living.

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