Sometimes the monotony and bureaucracy of the corporate world could also be deemed one of the greatest creative catalysts. For Richard Liu of DSPTCH, a career spent over some of the tech world’s most notable behemoths such as LinkedIn and PayPal did however serve as a great platform to learn and acquire the necessary knowledge before ultimately spreading his wings. Making the jump several years ago to work full-time on DSPTCH, Liu has never strayed far from the entrepreneurial spirit of running your own business. In the past, he helped the digital presence of 3sixteen in its formative years as well as San Jose retailer Purist. Spending countless hours after his day job to build up DSPTCH, it took a full two years before he was ready and committed to leave the corporate world. But while many lament the grind of their 9-5, Liu has some choice advice for those wanting to quit their day job in pursuit of freedom, creativity, responsibility and in some instances, a bigger paycheck. Below are 10 points any budding entrepreneur should consider before making the plunge into starting their own brand.
For more information on DSPTCH, head over to their website.
Put some thought into it
This sounds like a ridiculously obvious thing to say. What it really should say is to put some serious and emotionless thought into it. Too often I hear of people using dissatisfaction with their current job as the jettisoning force to free themselves from their desk. Starting your own business should be much more than a reaction, it is going to drain your time, money and resources. Make sure you take the time to consider all of the changes that will go into it. It’s impossible to expect that you will be able to keep everything in your life the same and pursue your passion. The improvement of one will most likely lead to the degradation or constriction of the other. This is a big decision (if you’re really serious about making it work). Give it the consideration it deserves.
Make a plan
Ridding yourself of a day job may feel liberating at first, but trust me, that state of euphoria gets quickly backhanded out of you when the reality of its limitations settle in. Having a clear plan before you make your big leap not only helps you decide if it is the right decision, but will also give you a chance to prepare for it beforehand (sometimes years in advance). I spent two years running DSPTCH from my apartment while working a full-time job and although endearing at times, is something I never wish to do again. But, enduring that discomfort early on helped take pressure off during the nascent years of the company and also taught me how to be very efficient with my time and run a lean operation. Those are lessons I still rely on today, years down the road. Start working on your plan in the meantime before you break the chains.
Set some checkpoints ahead of time
This point pertains more to the “life after” but is definitely beneficial to think about while still in the process of forming your plans. What does “keep going” look like? What does “this isn’t working” look like? Before you make your jump (specifically, before you go beyond the point of no return), it’s not only critical to have a vision of success in your mind but also to know when the results and external factors you experience are telling you that your plan needs more work. Set attainable goals and stick to them. If you aren’t able to hit your targets, be realistic about when it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Check the timing
This lends back into the bit about not letting emotion being your determining factor. Patience and good timing are two of the most unlikely yet important attributes to have when working for yourself. Focusing on these early on will not only lessen the impact of your switch, it will also pay dividends down the road when making more big decisions for your business. One common characteristic of successful entrepreneurs that I’ve witnessed so far is that they’re all calculated and shrewd decision makers. Consider this the first of many good decisions that you’re going to make on your new path.
Be aware of your limitations
This one is might be a little hard to read for some of you. The truth is that the vast majority of people out there lack the skill, experience, and knowledge to successfully launch and sustain their own business. That doesn’t mean to give up now where you sit, but it does mean that you, in your current state, do not have what it takes to be successful. But don’t take this as a debilitating statement. This should encourage you to embrace your role as a student early on, hungry for new ways to equip yourself to handle each task at hand and continually improving your skillset. Spend time working on every aspect of running a business now so you’ll be prepared when it’s time to put those skills to use.
Master your craft
One thing that must remain consistent throughout your path is a healthy thirst for improving your abilities as an entrepreneur. There’s no guidebook to this, it’s an ecosystem that can only be properly maintained with a continual accrual of knowledge, skill and capability. Even if you have enough to launch a company, do you have enough to keep it growing? Will you be able to adapt if the consumption climate changes drastically? All of this is tied to the central theme of constantly working at your craft and getting better at what you do. That doesn’t mean you read books endlessly but it also doesn’t mean you should spend all of your time in front of a blank whiteboard either. Experience helps, but also isn’t the be-all and end-all. This is going to be critical to keeping your business growing even after you’ve had a good launch. The good part is that you can start working at it now, the only requirement is time and effort.
Be prepared to make tough choices
There are rarely going to be clear choices. In fact, they’re pretty uncommon. You have to be comfortable with facing difficult decisions, ones that have lots of short and long term ramifications. If this is the type of thing that can paralyze you, you’re going to have a rough road ahead. Failing businesses aren’t always just about bad decisions made. It’s just as much about not capitalizing on a good opportunity or under-committing to one. The most sophisticated business analysis is always going to simplify down to a list of risks, benefits and costs. Make sure you’re prepared to make the right (and calculated) decision when the time comes.
Get comfortable with sacrifice
This is another one that requires a lot of self-evaluation. It should already be assumed that there are going to be some immediate changes to your lifestyle. Of course, the expectation is that you eventually get back to self-sufficiency but the timeline is the colossal question mark that many are unprepared for. For the vast majority, this is going to take a few years at least and there are going to be varying degrees of discomfort along the way. You have to be prepared to go into survival mode if necessary and be able to handle it for indefinite amounts of time. This is the first big step of becoming an entrepreneur: how far are you willing to go to fight for your dream? You can’t look at the select few that have made their success quickly and expect the same for yourself. If you’re really serious, get ready to dig in.
Find your inner circle
In my experience, this is the one that people get really hung up on but for completely the wrong reasons. I meet way too many people that feel like they need mentors or advisers to teach them how to run a business but the reality is that for the most part, you’re really going to have to figure it out on your own. Finding solutions and answers to problems on your own won’t just be good for your business, but will also help develop many of the skills you’ll need to be successful in the future. With that being said, it is still good to have one or a few trusted individuals that you can bounce ideas off of and give you another point of view. Find people that will tell you the truth and give you their honest and real opinion (translation: not your buddies). That doesn’t mean you’ll always agree, but it will give you perspectives that you’ll oftentimes glaze over.
Execution, execution, execution
The last and most important piece, this is the capstone of your entire decision. Everything mentioned before ladders up into this single idea: can you execute it. You can have all of the resources in the world but at some point, it’s just going to be down to you and whether you can get it out and into the market. This isn’t just about picking the fabric or liking the placement of a pocket, it’s the encompassing process that you’ll need to go through in order to create your product (and then repeat). Unfortunately, this is something that almost everyone thinks they can do but most can’t. Keep this at the top of your mind early on, almost to the point of fixation. If you think you’re ready to not just make the fun and easy decisions but also the difficult or taxing ones, you’ll be one step closer to the right path.