There's a lot of support and encouragement to start a business, but the reality of how that is done financially is often a key concern for many would be young entrepreneurs. It’s possibly the most terrifying bit and although it may seem an easier risk when you’re younger and have less responsibilities, it’s still a pretty terrifying one. When you decide to stop on that route to sound, secure employment that you’ve spent that last 5 years studying at university for, while all your friends continue down that path and begin the process of buying flats, getting married, buying nice cars, working their way up their career ladder; it is terrifying! You can feel like life is leaving you behind, and the pressure you feel from society’s norms to just ‘get a normal job and get on in life’ is a true test of your entrepreneurial commitment.
As someone who has benefited a tremendous amount from the thriving Scottish entrepreneurial eco-system, I like to take time to chat to other would be entrepreneurs and share my experiences of what I call ‘the start-up rollercoaster’. One question I’m always getting asked though:
‘What was it like at the start and how did you support yourself financially in the early days of Recoil Knee Pads?’.
For many young entrepreneurs, personal savings or assets are not really option. Thankfully though, there are plenty of competitions out there like The Scottish EDGE and funding competitions from The Scottish Institute for Enterprise are just some examples. Specific young person loans on offer from The Princes Trust are also great ways for young entrepreneurs to get some cash behind them to get their ideas of the ground.
However, funding competitions aren’t guaranteed and loans can sometimes be a daunting option for someone with very little assets or cash behind them. Another option for the Young Entrepreneur is taking on a part time job and slowly self-fund their idea until a stage they can secure further investment. However, even this can be a tough decision to make; as you feel as though after your years of study you should be moving on from the minimum wage part time job life into a full-time career. Its what society expects, and to move off of that path can be pretty terrifying. In addition, sometimes you can feel like less of an entrepreneur because you feel as though your giving yourself a safety net – something you can sometimes feel ‘real’ entrepreneurs don’t need. It’s a battle of the stereotypical entrepreneur versus reality.
It’s different for every entrepreneur, but I funded VH Innovation and Recoil Knee Pads initially through a business start-up competition called Young Innovators Challenge and then through boot strapping onto a part-time job I took on with Homebase. Winning some business funding competitions along the way was great as they make getting the business of the ground easier as you now have cash to do specific things e.g. file patents, employ a design consultancy; however, I still had the same battels of how do I fund myself that many other entrepreneurs face. For me, that’s where the part time job came in. I had all of these mixed emotions: ‘life’s leaving me behind’, ‘I’m 23, I should be getting a proper career now’, ‘all my friends are buying new cars or flats!’ etc. So, I completely understand what many young entrepreneurs are feeling and facing.
It is terrifying but the way I have come to see it is, when you have no cash, but want to do something you love, but need cash and time to do it, and for one reason or another can’t or don’t want investment, then the part time job is realistic; it gives you some cash and frees up enough time to get the business of the ground! In my opinion, it only adds value to how committed, driven and determined you are. It also proves an unconscious point that I believe to be true, that entrepreneurs are driven by more than just money. If you were purely driven by money, then I don’t believe people would go down this route because it is tough keeping all the plates spinning. But somehow, you find the energy, time and commitment to make it all work.
Personally, my main worry with the part time job was that I worried that people would think I didn’t have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur or people would think I wasn’t as committed as I should be as I had this safety net. But I’ve come to realise that sometimes a safety net is necessary to keep your business afloat just until it can confidently walk the tight rope on its own!
When I think on it now, it’s ironic – I was worried people wouldn’t think I was committed yet I was working 30 hours a week in a part time job plus about 50-60 hours a week in my own business. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t let the pressure of society or social anxiety doubt yourself. If you know your committed, then who cares what anyone else thinks of your choice of how you fund this business, or where you live, or what kind of car you drive. Does any of it really matter? If you’re keeping things going, and can find the time to fit everything in, then who cares. And if you ever have the fear that life is leaving you behind…then look at it in perspective, the average life expectancy in the UK is well into the late 70’s. I was 23 when I started VH Innovation: there’s plenty of time for the fancy car, the nice flat, the expensive holidays. If you need to put some things on hold to try something new and different then it’s ok.
I was on a train a few weeks ago and was sitting talking to a fellow entrepreneur whose experience was not too dissimilar to what I have experienced and felt. During our chat we resonated on how lonely it can be in this situation. While all your friends are flying forwards in their chosen careers – you can feel stuck and lonely as life moves forwards for everyone else. You get that feeling that it would be easier to just go and get a ‘real job’ and logic pushes you in that direction; but there’s just something that tells you ‘keep going’. An irrational self-belief; a passion; a drive; that goes against all the evidence. A feeling that comes straight from the heart.
‘I can. And I will. Do this’.
Not every young entrepreneur will have this experience. But for those that have to go through the struggle of early funding and the battle with social pressures; you’re not alone! You feel you’re making sacrifices, but the quote of ‘if it were easy, everyone would do it’ rings true. You’re doing something not many choose to do, it is going to be tough, and there are going to be sacrifices, but It’ll be worth it in the long run!
If you’re riding out the start-up storm via an already secured investment deal or via a self-funded part time job, then good on you! If you’re making sacrifices you’re worrying about or life doesn’t seem to be playing out as society would expect and you’re feeling the pressure, then don’t. It doesn’t matter how or when you do it, what does matter is that you’re doing it! You have your whole life ahead of you. There’s plenty of time.