I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad, buy all of the things I never had. Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine, smiling next to Oprah and the Queen.
These lyrics from “Billionaire”, the awesome hit song by Travie McCoy ft. Bruno Mars has become the new age anthem of sorts for many wannabe entrepreneurs.
Looking at the glossy covers of magazines like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc, it’s hard not to covet the dream lifestyles of successful entrepreneurs; they’re rich, independent, accomplished and celebrated.
Who wouldn’t want that?
It’s no surprise more young people (especially “millennials”) are getting drawn to entrepreneurship. Within this demographic, it’s now commonplace to hear things like:
“I want to do my own thing.”
“I want to be my own boss.”
I think it’s an amazing global trend. And across Africa, it’s more of a revolution. And it’s very timely because if things remain as they are, over 400 million Africans could be unemployed by 2050. And only entrepreneurs – not even the government or foreign aid – can create these jobs quick enough.
But is the gold rush for entrepreneurship as promising as it looks on the covers of High Street magazines?
In this article, I’ll take you on a journey that goes beyond the smiling faces, bespoke suits, sprawling mansions and fancy cars that have become the trademark of successful entrepreneurs across the world. We’re going to focus more on the “process” of entrepreneurship and not the flashy outcomes that we are quick to envy and celebrate.
Every sparkling and perfectly-cut diamond has gone through a grueling process that involved a lot of dirty digging, sweat, hard work, patience, perseverance and focus.
While it’s OK to dream and revel in the lyrics of the Billionaire song, it’ll take a lot more than just dreams to taste the lifestyle that these successful entrepreneurs have earned.
Note: While there are much faster ways to join the Millionaire Club, many of which are illegal, this article focuses on the respectable path; building a business that creates real value for customers, employees, partners, investors and the society.
1| Nobody talks about the risks
The first thing that strikes you about the glamour of entrepreneurship is the overwhelming focus on the rewards. We’re hardly told the backstory of the pains and risks that came before the rewards.
We are constantly fed tales of heroic people who started a business from their parent’s garage and built it into a multi-million dollar company. We are regaled with stories of employees who quit their jobs to take on entrepreneurial pursuits.
The truth is, if we really knew just how much risk entrepreneurs expose themselves to, we would admire their guts more than we envy their success. Entrepreneurs often take risks that don’t make any sense at the time, and that’s how they’re able to reap the big rewards.
Am I saying we shouldn’t focus on the rewards and pleasures of entrepreneurship? No, not at all. All I’m saying is we need to know the full story. The rewards of entrepreneurship are only half the story. The pains, frustrations, risks and challenges are actually the most important parts of the story.
So, if you want to be on the cover of Forbes Magazine, you need to have the balls to take risks. The bigger the risks you can take, the bigger the rewards you can make.
2| It’s a lonely journey until you make it
This one’s a fact: nobody cares about you until you make it.
Many people just don’t realise how lonely entrepreneurship can be. Especially in the early days and years, you’re in the driving seat of the business and the burden rests squarely on your shoulders.
Except you have a supportive business partner, co-founder or mentor, the journey is usually a very lonely experience for many entrepreneurs. Worse still, in spite of everything you’re going through you still have to be your own therapist.
People are drawn to success. But until success comes, you’re largely invisible. If you’re looking for fame, I’m sure this could be very disappointing. But I think it’s a good thing because this loneliness is the best opportunity you have to focus on nurturing and growing your business into a huge success.
Success usually comes with a heavy dose of distractions. Press interviews, invitations to speak at local and international conferences, mentorship and coaching requests, and the pressures of managing your rising public profile are just some of the distractions success will bring into your life.
3| Self-doubt will haunt you
Entrepreneurs often come across as visionaries; people who see and act on things that others don’t. What we often do not realise is that visions are not certainties. And things can go wrong as we try to bring a vision into reality.
Self-doubt is one of the most common demons that haunt entrepreneurs. Whenever we take risks or take on challenges that don’t have an assured outcome, it’s human nature for doubt to creep in at every turn.
This is why most successful entrepreneurs are big believers and perennial optimists. It’s this unconditional belief in their vision that propels them to conquer their doubts and achieve success, in spite of the odds.
Things will happen that will test your confidence and make you doubt your vision sometimes. Disappointments and frustration could push you to the brink of despair. But because they’re big believers, entrepreneurs usually recover from these setbacks.
4| It’s not just about the money
In a previous article, “Why Did You Do It; 3 Reasons We Become Entrepreneurs”, it’s apparent that while many people look upon entrepreneurship as a route to wealth and financial freedom, the folks who actually become very successful entrepreneurs don’t just do it for the money.
While money is certainly a strong motivator for entrepreneurs, to make it through the dark and lonely days of building a business, you will need something more than just the “love of money” to keep you going. Some entrepreneurs do it for the passion, fun and excitement. Others do it to contribute something valuable to the world, and to make an impact.
In the end, money is just one of the rewards for the risks entrepreneurs take, but it’s not the ultimate reward. It’s just a way to keep score. Recognition, impact and self-actualization are actually far stronger motivators than money.
5| You’ll be broke sometimes
Many people become entrepreneurs because they want to make money. The reality is, you may have to ‘lose’ money first before you make any money. Anybody who’s bootstrapped a business before would know what I’m talking about.
When you’re really committed to building a business, it’s natural to give it everything. To pay salaries, keep the lights on and meet all the other obligations of your business, the entrepreneur often has very little left to live on. But as long as their vision is alive, most entrepreneurs know that being broke is only a temporary condition.
Entrepreneurs are like farmers; they always look forward to the harvest. But until harvest time comes, they’ll do everything they can to keep their crops alive, even if it means staying hungry and broke. By the time the harvest comes, all the pain, suffering and sacrifice will be long forgotten.
Are you ready for the ride?
Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster ride. A lot of people focus on the destination, but the journey is what’s most important. You will spend a lot of time in the trenches, working hard and making sacrifices until you “make it”.
Anybody can want to be a billionaire, but far fewer are willing and ready to do what it takes to become one. That’s why I believe successful entrepreneurs deserve their celebrity status. They deserve all the attention they get because they’re truly remarkable people.
A rollercoaster ride is fun for those who look forward to the thrill. It’s not going to be easy, and there’ll be booby traps, frustration and disappointments along the way. But if you make it to the end, your life could change forever.
If this sounds like a good deal to you, go for it.
Remember: no guts, no glory!
John-Paul Iwuoha is an impact entrepreneur, SME Business Coach, and founder of Smallstarter Africa. He works with entrepreneurs and investors to start up and grow businesses in Africa. He is also the co-author of ‘101 Ways To Make Money in Africa’, the widely-acclaimed book which reveals several interesting business ideas, market opportunities, and inspiring entrepreneur success stories across Africa. For the latest updates on business and entrepreneurship across Africa, follow Smallstarter on Twitter, @smallstarters