If I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me, “One of these days, I’m going to start my own company,” I’d be rich. If this day ever comes for all these people, we will be overrun by startups. Yet I don’t lose any sleep over either of these possibilities.
Most people procrastinate from time to time, but I suspect that the challenge here is somewhat deeper than that. So I did my own informal survey of business books, to gather the key reasons why most people never start the journey. If you recognize yourself in any of these categories, you may be more of a “wanna be” than a real entrepreneur:
1. You are a dreamer, not a do-er. Most people in this category actually prefer to think of themselves as “idea people,” rather than implementers. In my view, the dreaming part and the idea are the easy parts, and the hard part is building a workable plan and making it successful. A strong vision is required, but that’s different from the dream.
2. Unable to learn the new skills. This starts happening to people immediately after school, who think that academia is where skills are acquired. Actually, schools are only for learning how to learn. Specific expertise is self-learned from experience, not books. The ability to learn doesn’t decline with age, unless confidence and interest declines.
3. Unhealthy fear of failure. A wise man I once knew said “He who is never afraid, he’s a fool.” Successful people overcome their rational fears, and move on to get the job done. Others are debilitated by their fear, and never start. Expecting some failure, and learning to deal with it, is one of the most effective ways to learn. Investors know that all too well.
4. Hidden fear of success. Believe it or not, many people fear success, and stop short if they see it approaching. There is, in fact, plenty of evidence that it takes a strong person to manage their life after success – note the many failures after success in winning the lottery, or after topping the charts in their chosen profession.
5. You are a perfectionist, not a pragmatist. A new product or service will never be perfect in a rapidly changing world, so why start? At the other extreme, I know inventors that have been working on the same idea for thirty years, and have nothing to show for it. A proven path to success in business is to get something out, and iteratively improve it.
6. Not focused, or easily distracted. Successful entrepreneurs have a strong vision, and don’t let anyone or anything lead them astray. In business, this means you have to keep your priorities straight, and separate the important from the urgent. Learn to commit, focus, organize your work, and delegate when appropriate.
7. Always finding excuses. The first principle of entrepreneurship is that “the buck stops here” – you have to accept ultimate responsibility for whatever happens, good or bad, Excuses are artificial barriers for not starting something, or ways of convincing yourself that someone or something else is responsible for your failures. Neither is productive.
8. You are not a self-starter. If you need someone else to tell you when to develop your business plan and organize your time, then “one of these days” will probably never come for you. With the entrepreneurial lifestyle, it’s up to you to set the standards, be the model, and actively do the follow-through.
According to Psychology Today, some twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. Among wishful entrepreneurs, I think the percentage is nearer to ninety. If that is your current state, it need not be a life sentence by default. Some of you will change your outlook and your behavior, one of these days. When will you get around to it?
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management.