Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Entrepreneurship is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Last week I shared with you my version of TGA’s 10 Year Story, and through the process of writing it and planning for our anniversary campaign, I’ve done a decent amount of reflection.

One of the topics I've been thinking about is the myth I hear frequently about entrepreneurship being sexy and quick, a la Instagram and Tumblr.  In my experiences, it's usually the exact opposite – complicated and long. 

One of the more timely articles to cross my eyes recently was Seth Levine’s blog “The Ten Year Entrepreneur” in which he does a better job of describing this than I could.   In it, he says: “Years 3-10 in a business are the real heart of entrepreneurship … figuring out how to scale an organization ... playing with product market fit that you thought you’d already figured out 10 times … trying um-teen different sales and marketing ideas … all while trying to make sure you don’t run out of money … this is the meat of company building.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I was on a conference call recently with some industry members trying to explain the lifecycle and timeframe of selling, starting and building a sustainable franchise.  My comment was this – “building a business takes time … in the first year, a TGA franchise is generally focused on learning the business; in year two, they usually start having some success; and in year three is generally when they blow it up.”

Some of the folks on the call seemed surprised (not an uncommon reaction) at the risk and length of time involved.  But in our world, success is never guaranteed and immediate income of a significant nature is rarely achieved.  That's not entrepreneurship.  If you want guarantees and large paychecks from the beginning, you're better off as an employee for an established company.  Entrepreneurship is about value creation and risk with upside.

Interestingly, the timeframe I articulated was for a franchise coming into a proven model where things like “product market fit” and “sales and marketing ideas” should be relatively established.  If you're starting a company from scratch, you're likely in for an even longer haul.  We definitely had some initial success in our first few years at TGA, but it took several to break-even and several more to “blow it up” (if that’s even happened yet – my opinion is that it hasn’t).

In retrospect, years 1-3 were much easier than years 4-10, especially since we started franchising in 2006.  Nowadays, the issues we deal with are bigger and carry larger ramifications.  Our responsibilities, especially to our staff, have increased along with the overhead.  It’s more time-consuming and challenging to modify policies and procedures now that they’re imbedded within a 70 franchise system.  Culture has been established, and trying to change the less glorious aspects of it can set off what feels like World War 3.

But we made it, thankfully, due to a healthy mixture of persistence, stubbornness, instinct, and most importantly, passion and belief.

The lesson is this – if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, get ready for a long, tough marathon because entrepreneurship is all about building a business with long-term sustainability and rarely does that look anything like a sexy, quick sprint.

I’ll end with a quote from my favorite robot dinosaur Fake Grimlock who I definitely encourage you to follow on Twitter if you don’t already:


Happy entrepreneuring…

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