Letter to an aspiring entrepreneur

Dear aspiring entrepreneur,

You asked for a checklist of things to think about before taking the plunge. But there are so many lists out there. If you want a really long one, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur has 163 things. But instead of writing a list, I shall tell a story.

This is the story of why we did not quit our day jobs.

Many of us went to business schools, and there we are surrounded by people full of great dreams. We wanted to shape public policy and have a taste of being our own bosses. We raised funds, set up activity clubs, and talked to those who succeeded. We were young; we were unstoppable.

Then most of us joined brand name firms because it made our resumes look good. Our dreams were shoved aside by the prestige and stability of these opportunities. But they were not dead – they were just asleep.

These dreams were awakened recently by work drudgery, a huge recession, or even a quarter-life crisis. Still, only a handful of us have quit our day jobs to sell brownies, Japanese-inspired cuisine or designing services. Perhaps it's the curse of getting a degree. There are just too many things at stake to give up a cushy day job for passion and uncertainty.

We worry that we do not have a concept that would sell to the heart and, more importantly, the pockets. There was no reason for people to flock to our stores when there are so many other options. Take the blog shops for example. Why would people pay a newcomer for clothes in an industry where quality is, more often than not, dubious?

We worry that we will not be able to repay our loans without that stable job. Tuition loans... mortgages... renovation loans... car loans... How could we make the monthly payments if we have to survive months without any profit or net cash inflow? We do not want the creditors coming round. I know some people who work for debt recovery companies, and they have sharp tongues and creative brains that make the loansharks' tactics seem so retro.

We worry about the experience of the “pure” start-up phase: long hours... a social life that is limited to business partners. As Mark Suster, a 2x entrepreneur who has since gone over to venture capitalism, says, “... being an entrepreneur is very unsexy. Long hours. Time away from family. Low salary. High risk. High stress. It only looks sexy when you read TechCrunch. There is no shame in being an exec at a company or whatever.”

And if the company grew attractive enough, would we sell? Entrepreneur theory teaches us to sell, but the voices are growing louder that “building a company for an exit usually won't work”. Would we want to stay in our 'baby' for the rest of our lives, or would we be bored and move on? When and how will we know what to do? Too many long-term decisions.

We also realized that we liked risk and uncertainty much less than we thought. Neither are we as well-rounded as we have to be to embark on the entrepreneurial route. Most of us are well-versed in balancing T-tables and even calculating option prices. But these same few of us were never schooled in preparing a good budget. We studied the four P's of marketing and made fantastic presentations using those principles, but were blissfully unaware of the nuances and unspoken rules of requesting for proposals.

Perhaps some of us might think, we could straddle a day job while running a business. But then there's too the worry that there wouldn't be enough time to develop new products or market it in that little spare time we have. Straddling a day job and business venture naturally meant that one had to be the neglected child.

All these worries hold us back. And so, we stayed in our cushy jobs. It was much easier.

Do we regret? Well, sometimes, especially when we see our peers who quit their day jobs basking in the glory of their business ventures. Perhaps one day we will dare to take the plunge or find a way to overcome all these challenges. Then again, perhaps we won't.

But until then, we salute you, the aspiring entrepreneur!

Yours Sincerely,
Those of us who did not quit our day jobs

About the author: Michele loves to observe people at work and play, and wondering what drives people to behave the way they do. She has toyed with selling stationery before because all girls deserve to own beautiful things at affordable prices, and is exploring ways to marry her interest in communications and finance. She hopes to join the ranks of the entrepreneurs one day, but does not know if she will. Michele can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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