Not A Born Entrepreneur? You Can Still Be Successful
For some millennials, entrepreneurship is in their blood and 9-to-5 jobs are inconceivable. That wasn’t me. Until I built a $50 million-dollar business. But I wasn’t born this way. I didn’t come out of the womb with the next big business idea. As a kid, I didn’t open a lemonade stand on my street, and I wasn’t designing apps in college. Yet these days, I get asked about my success by a lot of people, and I don’t want to keep telling them it was an accident, but … it was kind of an accident.
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur but haven’t found your great idea, or you worry that entrepreneurship isn’t in your blood, that doesn’t mean you won’t be successful. Hopefully, the lessons I learned while “accidentally” becoming an entrepreneur will provide you with some inspiration.
My story is this, in a nutshell: In 2004, with co-founders Joe Manzari and Gabriel Martinez and just $15,000 in pooled start-up capital, we formed a company out of my basement that provided managed network services to large retail clientele. We grew rapidly, survived the 2008 market crash and eventually flourished to become a multimillion-dollar business servicing major national retail clients. As the CEO and president, I was proud of the fact we never took on any outside investors or capital. And in August of 2013, our company was purchased for just over $50 million.
But when I was in high school and then college at the University of Maryland, I had no grandiose ideas of running my own business. I was thinking maybe I’d go into in law enforcement like my father, or maybe I’d be a lawyer. It was a lot of the usual hemming and hawing and uncertainty that most people of my generation experienced at that age. But today, it seems, a lot of millennials want to come out of college and instantly become entrepreneurs because they feel like that’s what they were born to do.
I’m here to tell you, that’s probably not the case.
Look, I get it. There are the Mark Zuckerbergs, Mark Cubans and Gary Vaynerchuks of the world — people for whom it would appear a path had been predetermined by some entrepreneurial higher power, people we can’t imagine doing anything else but building great businesses. But the chosen few are just that: few (and possibly, chosen, if you believe in that kind of thing). For the rest of us, however, some assembly may be required.
You don’t have to be a born entrepreneur to be successful.
I don’t believe we’re born entrepreneurs (maybe some are born salespeople, like me), and I don’t think, even if you consider it your destiny, you necessarily need to jump out of college and start your first company. I could never have done that.
I needed real-world experience before I started my company at 27, and you may need the same. I needed to work in a startup environment in the late ’90s when the dot-com boom was in full swing. I needed to see these wild companies going public despite making no money and how that all played out. So, I recommend you get out there and see the inner workings of a successful business and also face the mistakes that can lead to failure. Learn what to move toward and what you should run from. In my opinion, you need to get your corporate sea legs under you in order to eventually sail across the ocean of uncertainty that is entrepreneurship.
You don’t have to become an entrepreneur right away.
I think it’s important to realize it’s OK to come out of college when you’re 21 and go to work for a handful of companies and learn. Don’t get down on yourself if you’re 23 years old and you haven’t had that multimillion-dollar idea yet. Those don’t come along often. But if you give yourself time, if you find mentors, if you learn how good businesses work (and why bad businesses don’t) and if you figure out what makes you spring out of bed every day with excitement, inevitably you’ll know when it’s time to bring your idea to the forefront. Or maybe — just maybe — someone will bring that idea to you.
You don’t have to do it by yourself.
Why do I say it was an accident that I became a successful entrepreneur? Because it was my future business partner who came to me and said, “I’ve got an idea.” And at the time, I was so frustrated with the large corporation I was working for that I looked at my job and realized that, despite the fact that I was doing very well financially, I was entirely unfulfilled. But in that moment, how do you know if the people you’re potentially partnering with are the right ones?
To me it’s simple: Recognize what you’re good at and what you’re not. Stay in your lane, and find people who fill the gaps where you struggle. I surrounded myself with people who are smarter than me and whom I trust. The right business partner has to be someone you want next to you in the foxhole — you know they always have your back, and you have theirs. At the same time, it can be difficult if both parties have the same personality. Ideally, you want some yin to your yang. Two people whose RPMs pin the needle every single day can actually become detrimental to your success; balance is key.
When my chance came to partner up, like so many, I believed I had talents that were being underutilized, and I was of the ideal mindset at that moment to hear about this new business idea and think, “Am I gonna make the jump or not?” And so, quite by accident, my time had come. It was my aha! moment.
And in that instant, I became an entrepreneur. Accidentally. And right on time.