As a society, we value money above all else. Even things like oil and gold, substances deemed precious the world over, are revered as much for their monetary value as they are for their actual function. Given our dependence on currency, it's important to, as rappers say, "get money." There are a few ways you can go about doing that. You can exchange your time and labor for money, also known as having a job. You can sell drugs, though this is almost universally illegal. You can perfect a skill to the point where people are willing to pay you money just to see you perform, as happens with athletes and musicians. Or you can do what those of us incapable of doing any of the above things do, which is to go into business for yourself.
Though plugging my startup isn't the purpose of this article, doing so provides context (plus I'd be stupid not to). A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I started a company called datesocial, a new way for people to meet each other in the Washington, DC, area. It's not as awkward as online or speed dating, and (we think) a much better solution than services like Grouper, for instance. If you live within 20 miles or so of the DC area and like the idea of going to a bar with friends where you're guaranteed to meet 20 women who also want to meet someone, head over to datesocial.co and sign up for our mailing list. You'll get an email describing it in more detail, and you'll be among the first to know about our upcoming events. We've gathered enough interest that we're already planning our first event for later this month. There: plug over.
Just about everyone I know has designs on or at least daydreams of starting a business, which I think is normal. In a way, it's counter to human nature to work for and be subjugated by someone else, even if you enjoy what you're doing and are well compensated for it. At least here in America, the idea of making your own way is drilled into our cultural canon. And yet, while no one ever says, "I want to be a cog in a giant, multinational machine when I grow up," that's usually what happens. If you're one of those people who wish to be their own boss, pulling the trigger and making it happen is so, so hard. I can't give you advice on how to create a successful business (because I can't yet make that claim), but I can hopefully give you the nudge you need to at least try.
Consider your motivations
I suppose there's no bad reason to catch the entrepreneurial bug, but some are better than others. If you simply had a bad week at work or have a boss you dislike in a career you otherwise enjoy, that's probably not enough to motivate you to really throw yourself into creating something on your own. Do you do something so well that you could leave the confines of corporate America and still make money? Have you thought of something that doesn't yet exist? Do you want to change the world? Do you see few other viable options? For my part, while my job search is still ongoing, I figured if no one else would, I should at least be able to hire myself.
1,000 bad ideas are better than none
I sincerely doubt that any entrepreneur has ever launched a successful business based on the first idea that popped into his head. The road to success is paved with dozens of failures, even if most of your ideas never make it out of your own head. Even when I was (somewhat) happily employed, I was constantly coming up with what my wife referred to as "crackpot" business ideas. Getting the gears turning is the first big step to eventually launching any business. It may require months or years of tinkering or revision, or it may all of a sudden come to you. Either way, you have to get into the mindset that you're going to create something. When we were coming up with datesocial, we were first inspired when we witnessed a speed dating event at a local bar. We thought, "Hey, we could probably do something like that," which turned into, "We can do something better than that."
No one knows your business but you
Staring a business is (I would imagine) a lot like having a child, in that as soon as you announce it, everyone has an opinion as to how you should go about handling it. Some people will have good intentions, but their advice will be so far from what you envisioned that you'll wonder if they actually listened to your idea to begin with. Others will criticize or outright chastise your idea, dooming you to failure or writing you off as someone a few cards short of a full deck. That's OK. Since so few people ever actually do what it is you're trying to do, they may just be jealous of your decision to pull the trigger and strive for greatness. It could also be that because they've always worked for an employer, they're almost incapable of wrapping their heads around the idea of making something from nothing. Either way, you can't get discouraged. That's not to say there aren't volumes of good advice out there, but assuming you put any thought into it at all, it's ultimately your vision and yours alone.
You don't need (much) money
The biggest barrier to entry in the startup world is the perception of cost, and at one time that was a very real barrier. If you wanted to open a store, you needed retail space and product to sell. If you wanted to manufacture something, you needed materials and equipment. Thanks to the internet, that cost barrier has morphed into more of a cost speed bump, especially if you're looking to provide a service rather than a good of some kind. Datesocial's landing page is hosted by launchrock, a free service for startups. Customers will register and pay for events through eventbrite, which is free to use and allows you to pass on its (incredibly modest) service fees to your customers. Facebook and Twitter are where we've done most of our marketing, and those are, of course, free. I've paid for a domain name, a logo design, some business cards and a few traffic pushes on fiverr. Our gross investment at this point is right around $100. That's a weekend's worth of dinner and drinks. It's easy to get overwhelmed when you read about tech startups raising millions of dollars in funding, but if you're willing to hack it at the start, you simply don't need that.
Coming up with a sound idea is unquestionably tough, but actually getting off your ass and making it happen is even tougher. It's easy to get complacent by having a winning idea that can never fail because you'll never test it. You also won't make any money that way. That first step, be it writing some brand copy or simply buying a domain name, is the hardest you'll take, but once you do, the floodgates will open. Datesocial started one night, when, after several drinks, I purchased the datesocial.co domain (datesocial.com is taken and unused, which still infuriates me) and set up a page at launchrock. Just taking that first, seemingly minor step only made me want to take more. If you truly believe in your idea, take the first step, and then aim to accomplish one or two things per day. You'll be amazed how quickly things will snowball.
I could go on for another 2,000 words, but my articles have been lengthy of late, much to the chagrin of the AskMen editorial staff. Plus, after all, I have a business to get off the ground. Chris Dixon, co-founder of hunch, said the following regarding startups:
"Whenever I see a brilliant kid decide to join Goldman Sachs, McKinsey or Google, I think to myself: a startup just died, and as a result, our world is a little less wealthy, innovative and interesting."
I couldn't agree more. It's time more of us got out there and changed the world.