The truth about entrepreneurship

Please note

In this post ‘entrepreneurship’ could be synonymous with being a freelancer or creative.

I apologise for saying the word ‘entrepreneurship’ so many times, I know you hear it enough.

Last Saturday, I had a lovely Christmas dinner with the Comuzi team and a few other loved ones. As we feasted, we discussed a plethora of topics such as social mobility, career progression, the law & entrepreneurship. Moving back and forth between genuine conversations and banter, we touched on the general perception of entrepreneurship or ‘chasing your dream’ on social media, debating about the objectivity of motivational quotes and images, not excluding some of the images we, or our peers post that may portray a glamorised or ‘vaguely subjective’ image of entrepreneurship. I’ve seen it all from tight blazers to posing in front of cars, company valuations, cocky instagram captions & expensive restaurants, all which may be authentic but provide a one-sided perception of entrepreneurship.

Take this picture for example that’s been used as motivation. We spent precious time comically exploring different trains of thought associated with this image. Is it an accurate reflection of life? Did the guys in this image have bills to pay all did they have all the time in the world? Did they go through personal issues? Did the guy at the bottom have to go and pick up his kids from school? Was he tired? & if he did give up, why?

Maybe we dug too deep (no pun intended lol) or ‘over-analysed’ what many just see as a picture but it is a picture that has been used to create a perception that many of us realistically know isn’t a true reflection of life, which is full of twists and turns. I concluded at that dinner table that ‘entrepreneurship’ specifically was not a straight path with a truckload of diamonds at the end, but actually a high risk road where the destination could be very uncertain.

We constantly hear and see the successes of entrepreneurs who constantly defy the odds, whether via articles on Forbes, TED talks or seeing a trader flaunt on instagram, but after such reflective conversation I realised that we hardly talk or show the hardship associated with taking an idea into your own hands and running with it despite the risk.

Three years ago a few friends and I set up Comuzi, a creative studio that has grown extremely progressively since we started in a tiny bedroom in South London. We’ve collaborated with outstanding organisations and startups, managing projects we never thought we would be able to take on. However, it hasn’t been the smoothest ride and although I’m not a ‘veteran’, I felt my experiences were valid enough to explore the side of entrepreneurship people don’t like to talk about.

2015 throwback if I’m correct (contrary to then I actually get my hair cut occasionally now).

I’m gonna take an honest, holistic view and break down the ‘truths’ I’ve learnt in four chunks.

Financial Instability

Setting up your own business is a great way to ensure financial freedom or stability in the long run, but building the initial foundations can be a very unstable period especially if you don’t have a job, funding or sufficient financial support. People who normally ask ‘if you’re rich’ once you tell them you run a company are asking way too early; it can take years to achieve a positive cash-flow (when your income is more than your costs), & according to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months, a primary reason being insufficient finance.

This brings back so many memories from 2013. I remember getting my card declined in Tesco once; I couldn’t get paid due to an late client payment and was so embarrassed I didn’t go back to the store for weeks! Alex and I survived on custard creams & tea once as we had no money for lunch. I have many more hilarious stories, the lesson being it’s important to manage financial risk when running a business. This could be setting stringent budgets, or doing freelance work to keep surviving. Dropping out of university, this was something I had to learn through the actual experience of financial ups and downs.

It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure — Bill Gates

Psychological Downs

The euphoria attained from running a business and actually making something out of it is phenomenal. Waking up and getting paid to do something you love feels wonderful right?

The day we signed our first consultancy contract was an accomplishment — it was a Wednesday & after a whole day of face to face negotiations we had a signed agreement in our hands. I felt no different to an investment banker who had just made a massive profit off a currency trade — I was the hulk and nothing could spoil my mood for the week.

That Friday, a co-founder stepped down from the company and my bubble was burst. In such a busy period I had to get over it, but that’s a minor example of how quickly a high can disappear. I initially laughed, but truthfully I was hurt.

What happens when one has major client disagreements or can’t meet a vital deadline because one is juggling too many roles? What happens when there’s no opportunities for months? These true-to-life events are hardly talked about, because of the psychological consequences of those who go through these situations. Some are able to brush it off and keep going, but many entrepreneurs, synonymous to creatives and freelancers secretly suffer from anxiety, depression & burnouts. I have friends in the business world who are not strangers to these lows, and I have experienced burnout more times than once. Mental health is an epidemic among entrepreneurs and a wider societal issue that requires more dialogue and transparency.

From my experience making time for loved ones, constant exercise and rest are great ways to alleviate stress. If you do suffer from anxiety or depression, don’t be scared to seek a professional and ask for help. You are loved, and you’re worth more than your business experiences. Feel free to contact me at hello@richardfagbolagun.co.uk, comment anonymously or dm me on Twitter if you would like to talk :).

Failure & Rejection

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly — Robert F Kennedy

As a nigerian growing up, failure was a red card. If I got a B in an exam, my dad would ask me why I didn’t get an A lol. When I was ‘shipped’ to boarding school in Nigeria, the principal would call out the worst test scorers in the whole school during assemblies and they were at serious risk of getting flogged. From a cultural perspective, this may have ‘made sense’ to ensure academic success but failure is actually a prerequisite for success.

Rejection is also part & parcel of being an entrepreneur. Despite major achievements this year such as working with NHS England at least 80% of the client proposals sent this year have been met with no’s for various reasons. Imagine how many have been sent off!

I fell off a bike several times with many bruises before I actually learnt to ride, similar to my experience over the last four years where many failed business ideas and projects have led the way to successful ventures. At Comuzi we spent the years 2013 & 2014 brainstorming ideas, running projects, building platforms which didn’t ‘blow up’ and getting no’s from investors, but the priceless lessons learnt from such risky endeavours led to us building a healthcare platform that was commended by the Department of Health, not to mention the credibility and client base we have been able to build with such a foundation.

It takes years to become an overnight success. Harrison Ford was told he’d never succeed in the movie business. Sir James Dyson went through thousands of prototypes over 15 years. Arianna Huffington was rejected by 36 publishers. Steve Jobs was kicked out of his own company.

My point is that the journey will mould you. I always see life experiences as a win/win. If one succeeds, great. If one doesn’t, then a great lesson is learnt. I sound like a motivational speaker now lol.

Sacrifices

As briefly mentioned before, entrepreneurship can and will in many cases cost one financial stability, comfort, sleep and a proper work/life balance in my humble opinion.

Running a startup will initially mean being a jack-of-all-trades; having a wealth of knowledge regarding different aspects of your firm is vital for early growth and will thrust one out of their comfort zone if they’ve only worked somewhere within a specific role rather than a range a roles. It’s normal for founders to have to learn bits and bobs about sales, finance, marketing, operations & legalities. Not saying one has to be an expert, but more a generalist — a survey on Stanford MBA Alumni confirms that those who have had a variety of jobs and experiences are more likely to start their own companies. I’ve spent the last few months cracking my head around design principles, project management, and client relationships within major organisations, not to mention what’s been learnt over the years.

If I got a pound for every time I did an all-nighter to finish a report or proposal or every extra hour after 10pm spent on work, I’d be able to take all my friends & extended family out to VQ without touching my debit card. I’m a big advocate for sleeping well every night and taking time to rest well & get one’s head together, but I’d be lying if I told you I don’t stay awake overthinking, trying to finish work, or if I said I get off my laptop after 5pm. This being said, it’s extremely important to find a balance to make time for more important things, like family, faith and one’s wellbeing.

Entrepreneurship has been a major highlight of my life - I’ve gone through a great learning experience and fortunately I don’t think I regret dropping out of university to do so.

That being said, I felt honesty was needed in regards to ‘the journey’.

It’s not easy, but worthwhile & if you’re thinking of setting up your own business, go for it & enjoy the whole experience.