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It’s Not a Job, It’s a Lifestyle #startups

I have been a passionate entrepreneur since launching my first business at the age of 19. With my first IPO reaching a market cap of some quarter-billion dollars in my 20's, I quickly learned how to take a good product idea and build it into a multimillion dollar enterprise. I also have learned the hard way, not ti take failure personally. Since then, I have been an avid investor in technology startups around the world. I have not ever really kept a job for very long. I am sharing some of my stories to help entrepreneurs live a balanced life.

It’s Not a Job, It’s a Lifestyle

I personally think that being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle. Many people think it’s about freedom or being your own boss. But when you’re an entrepreneur, you must be committed to learning and growing in everything you do 24/7. You have to know finance. You have to know sales. You have to know marketing. You have to know everything. You don’t have to be the best at it, but you have to know it. Not knowing is why people fail. When someone pitches me their startup, the first question I ask is about the financials. If they turn it over to their CFO, I get concerned that they’re not going to make it.

From the lifestyle perspective, being an entrepreneur is about choosing a life where you’re constantly working on projects that bring you happiness (and hopefully, making money along the way). Many people tend to forget about the happiness part, focusing instead on the economic win. Instead, being a successful entrepreneur is more like being a successful musician. Imagine if every musician left the business after his or her first song failed to become a hit. That’s not how it works. It’s about striving to make that second, third, fourth, or fifth song a hit. It’s about collaborating with other musicians. Yet many people tie their commitment to an entrepreneurial life to one project. If the project fails, they quit the whole quest.

Ben is an entrepreneur in Atlanta who left the corporate world to found an e-commerce platform designed to do flash sales with major retailors. Ben did all the right things. He saved a bunch of money over three years and kept his burn rate low. He didn’t buy a new house or go on any extra vacations. His plan was great, but it flamed out because he couldn’t find the right partner or compete with places like Amazon and Wal-Mart. Ben shut down his platform and got a corporate job. He’s out of the game now forever because he convinced himself this was his one shot. He thought that since his company failed, so had he.

What Ben and others like him don’t see is that the conditions of startup culture inherently create struggle. They blame themselves, thinking they have to work harder and harder. But when you’re an entrepreneur, your business is never closed. You can work as much as you want — and, fueled by urban legends, you want to. You believe you have to. That has little to do with reality.

A Never-Ending Story

Dabbling in entrepreneurship isn’t a real option. Think of it instead as a never-ending story. The sense of free will that comes with being an entrepreneur is unbelievably compelling, and once you get a taste for it, it’s tough to go back to a regular job. You can’t unring that bell. If that sounds like you, this book was written to help prepare you for the long haul ahead. Everything I’m going to share is rooted in my personal experiences. Founding and running three startups got me hooked on being an entrepreneur, for good and for bad.

I became an entrepreneur for two reasons: necessity and family legacy. The necessity part came from the fact that my dad, Pulla Reddy, had a heart attack when I was fifteen as we were playing tennis one morning. He was around fifty. We were living in India at the time, and there’s no 911 in India. After my dad collapsed, I had to get him in the car by myself and race to the hospital. There, he was pronounced dead. From then on, in many ways, I was on my own.

The legacy part comes from the fact that even though my dad was a civil engineer working in a structured environment, he always had an entrepreneurial hustle on the side. My dad taught me it was OK to do things differently. It was OK to ask for more.

My first successful venture happened when I was in college at Georgia Tech. My brother was working for the state’s largest utility firm in a big, corporate office building. I met him for lunch one day, and he introduced me to the company’s head of human resources. I was nineteen and didn’t even know what HR meant. When I asked the HR chief to explain her job, she said it involved employee wellness and providing perks to keep people happy so they’d remain at the company. She mentioned the building had a number of good restaurants and she was looking into providing a dry-cleaning service.

“I can do that for you,” I replied instantly, even though I knew nothing about dry cleaning.

Everything happened fast. The HR chief gave me free office space to run a dry cleaner out of the building, and I was in business. It was open for two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. At first, I would pick up the dirty clothes in the morning, tag them, and drop them off at a dry cleaning company owned by a friend. He would bring the clean clothes back in the early afternoon, and I would show up a little later and distribute them. Later, I started putting my college buddies to work for me, and all I had to do now was make bank deposits. I was making about $1,200 a month as a college student, and I sold the company after I graduated. I had built something from nothing that could run on its own and keep making me money. Plus, I did it without cash up front or needing to pay rent. There was no turning back.