Naked entrepreneur: why (not) to become one?

It has been several years since I realized that I want to become an entrepreneur, but I still cannot completely comprehend the benefits (and downsides) that go with this decision. And some of the benefits and downsides — probably not so obvious ones — might be useful to know for those who are still undecided, considering a similar career…

My rationale for becoming an entrepreneur was relatively simple: entrepreneurial life seemed completely in line with my personal values — freedom, fairness, rationality, striving for excellence. It appeared to offer the way to reach my highest ambitions. It seemed to fit. And so I went on, did my best to get the best entrepreneurship-related education, tried to gain the skills to be ready for when it comes, and found jobs that have taught me the most I might need to become a great entrepreneur.

And to my amazement, not just that my dreams and expectations are getting fulfilled, there is a big realization every now and then — learning? discovery? revelation? — strengthening my long-made decision. Just today, I realized one of the great powers of an entrepreneurial career, which I’d like to share with everyone, especially those who are still not decided whether or not to take a similar path. The big discovery is:

Entrepreneurship makes you completely naked. What do I mean? Like that embarrassing-naked in front of a crowd of laughing people? The kind most of us dread in their nightmares? Maybe. Or the shining-inner-beauty kind of naked, when you are being admired by everyone around as a piece of nature’s art? Like when you go to museum and look up to the breathtaking ancient body sculpture? Maybe. It actually depends on you what kind of naked you will get. Let me explain.

Having a (limited) experience from a big corporate, I believe that in bigger companies it is much easier to get lost in the crowd (wow, what a news..). Let’s not take it the negative way, I don’t believe that 95% of people working in multinational companies work there to slack and work less — in contrary. But having a team of great individuals around you enables you to get your weaknesses covered more easily, since there is a high probability that there is a person sitting just next to you whose biggest strength is the skill you’re not really so great at. And in case you are lucky enough to have a good boss who appreciates your professional strengths, building on those might be also a little bit easier with the support and resources you get. (Let’s not generalize on this one, reality might be very diverse in practice — but the idea remains.) The smaller the company gets, the less “weakness hideaways” and “strengths blowers” there are. In tiny companies where you are the only HR/marketing/[fill in your own function] person, you usually get a load wider scope of work, but also almost non-existent weakness hideaway space: there is no one else who would take care of the duties you struggle with.

With entrepreneurship, it gets the farthest. There are no weakness hideaways, you don’t (at least in the beginnings, by my experience) even get to pick the field you need to work on. Did you always excel at sales? Good. Now go and pick a first employee, because that is what you need to do. What are you saying, you’ve never done such thing? No experience with HR? Then learn it! Done? Now create the company’s first P&L, and make sure there are no mistakes, you might get sued over that. Not good with numbers? Your problem, just make sure you have it done today. What are you saying, you wanted to go home already? Sure, go if you please, you are your own boss after all. But better sleep well to be ready to face the consequences it brings tomorrow…

For entrepreneurs there are also no strengths blowers: no boss of yours who’d tell you you’ve done amazing job today, no made-to-measure projects your great management team came up with. You are probably short on money, so the huge visions you once had seem very naïve now that you look back, or at least a bit unrealistic to be reached as fast as you thought. You are left on your own, to fight for your dreams. No project budget, no boss, no ready made payroll, no amazing company culture: just you, couple of things you think you’re good at, and couple of things you fear/dislike about yourself.

Entrepreneurship sets you a mirror, and it is solely up to you to draw the image you want to see. It is up to you what kind of naked you’re getting. It is up to you to make sure there will be a great company culture. To make sure your product is mind-blowing at least for some small group of fans, or maybe for everyone on the world. It’s your job to make sure you focus on the things that matter and spend your time efficiently. You are alone in this and either you merely accept your weaknesses and strengths and fight with everything in your way, or you decide to do something about yourself and get the best out of you by passionately pushing your powers and learning to eliminate your incapabilities. Or you make them irrelevant by some magical trick — like hiring great people around yourself.

What, however, matters the most in my opinion, is the ability to reflect, to see yourself in the mirror as you are. In fact, the biggest part of your future “nudity” is invisible at first — it is the traits and skills you have. Are you a great visionary? Good, you got one millionth of what it takes to be a great entrepreneur. Are you the best communicator? Amazing, another millionth. But would you be able to tell, to admit yourself that “no, I am not really the visionary type” or “no, I’m not such a great in talking to others”? Would you be even able to admit to yourself “hey, I am getting too lazy” or “what I did was not completely up to my standards”, and then do something about it? Because if you are not able to see your naked self on your own and act on it, entrepreneurship will sooner or later show it — probably in a quite brutal way, and probably to everyone. Your laziness will become a mortal peril for your company, your lack of vision will make you waste months by fruitless activities, your lack of people skills will isolate you and disallow you to grow your business — and you might not even know what is happening.

Now, if you are capable of doing that, if you are capable of seeing your own reflection in the metaphorical mirror and admitting your real picture at least to yourself, you can step-by-step start making your naked self admirable, inspiring, successful. It is not the sales skills, the mastery financial indicators, not even the ideas you have that make you a great, beautiful entrepreneur. It is the ability to see your strengths and build on them yourself. It is the ability to recognize and admit your weaknesses, and make sure — on your own — that you fix them or get them somehow covered. It is the ability to recognize your naked self that enables you to become a great leader, great entrepreneur.