Photo Credit: Nasa

I Could Have Gone to Space, But I Started a Business Instead

“You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?”
— Rockhound, Armageddon

At the ripe old age of 14, I started my first business — a lawn service company. I would spend Saturday and Sunday mornings taking care of the landscaping needs of various offices. On Mondays, when I got home from school, I would write letters into other businesses close to my existing customers offering to provide them the same service. I was 19 when I went full throttle into starting and building a web site design business. And in the past two years, I left a gig I had for over 10 years to pursue yet another opportunity.

In each of these cases (and I will avoid sharing the dozens of other failed ventures I have experimented with — that’s for another time), I was driven by the idea of telling a great story and earning money on my terms so I could take care of the things I wanted to do. In high school, working a few hours on the weekend mornings while most were sleeping in kept me from having to spend my weekend evenings and time after school working in a retail store or a restaurant. When I was 19, starting a business was the only way I would have been able to finish college, not go insane and provide for my family (yes, I was on my way to being a dad) by paying the bills and ensuring my daughter’s mom could stay home with her when I was at class. Nearly 2 years ago, I ventured out from the comforts of the bi-weekly paycheck to get back on the entrepreneurial saddle.

I’ve been asked “what would I have done if I did not start my own businesses?” Well, in short, I could have gone to space.

The price of a Virgin Galactic commercial space flight ticket is $250,000. And looking back at things, if I tally up the money I have spent starting the businesses, consistent paychecks I gave up from previous gigs (“opportunity cost” for you business vocabulary gurus), and the time value of money, well, I just may have been able to swing the price of admission. (NOTE: The jury is still out on whether I would pass the required psychological exam or not — apparently, lunacy does not rank high with the test administrators).

Starting a business is adventurous — it is something to be proud of — it gives you views into the business and personal world that you simply cannot experience anywhere else. People will look up to you — people will be cheering for you. Not everyone can do it. Sound like an astronaut, maybe?

Amidst all of the hype and fanfare of being a business owner or entrepreneur, you will find the surface laced with incredible challenges that tend not to make the news or people’s Facebook pages.

Let’s not underestimate the cost.

Starting a new business requires capital. Whether that be your savings stash, your credit card or IRA (not suggested, but many have succeeded this way) or outside capital (someone else’s money, but you’re giving up equity, which could be your biggest expense ever), you are going to burn money. Leave a job or steady paycheck to make a business happen, you are foregoing the periodic cash influx AND missing out on dollars you should have earned. We are mortal and time is the one thing you cannot get back, so when you opt-out of a paycheck for a year, you are leaving guaranteed money on the table. Over time, opting out enough can leave a big hole your entrepreneurial shoes must fill.

How about the effort?

Going into space is a monumental effort. 270,000 parts (built by the lowest bidder, perhaps) plus an army of personnel to keep an eye on things. As an entrepreneur, there are going to be 270,000 or more things you have to do to start the business and likely, you will have to do many of them via a lowest bidder mentality. Often, that lowest bidder will be you, the owner. Less money spent on employees & services and less dilution, means preserving cash and ownership. Now, it doesn’t make sense to be cheap for the sake of being cheap — spend money where you have to. The cheaper gasoline in the spaceship engine may not give you the lift to get things off the ground.

In the process, enjoy the ride. There is nothing like getting lift-off when it comes to your new business!

Terence Channon is the Managing Director at SaltMines Group, a Start-Up Studio that helps early stage business ideas take shape and come to life through technology, product development, leadership support and capital.

Follow Terence on Twitter @terencechannon

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