The Entrepreneurial Dilemma
by Alex Charfen
Entrepreneurs, people like us, require far more protection and support than the average person to reach our full potential. But this is the dilemma; any request for protection and support leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed. It is one of those things that as entrepreneurs, we don't talk about. We don't share this with anyone. It isn't something we put out there because the day you become an entrepreneur, you become a commodity.
Entrepreneurs are criticized for working too much and working too hard. We are told that we blur the line between personal and business. I want to share with you the truth. Entrepreneurs blur the line between themselves and the company. I can't tell you how many entrepreneurs I know that have sacrificed, gone without, paid out of their own pockets, given up their income, and not drawn a paycheck for years. They do this just so that they can run the company, make the difference they want, and create their most significant contribution.
While the world sees entrepreneurs as affluent, having wealth, and power, the fact is most businesses are teetering on the brink of disaster. They're barely making it. The average entrepreneur, depending on who you believe, makes somewhere around 60 to 80 thousand dollars a year. They're by no means wealthy, and in meeting entrepreneurs around the world and hearing their inside voices, I can tell you that the vast majority of us live in a state of ambiguity and fear and we do everything we can to hide this because most feel like we are the only ones that are struggling. There is so much of a history and an echo of hearing things like, “fake it until you make it and don't ever let them see you sweat.” So we turn inwards, we isolate, and we don't ask for the protection and the support we need.
The challenge is that the vast majority of entrepreneurs in the world, not just in the United States are fully exposed because they're doing everything. They have no help and are truly a party of one. It doesn't matter if an entrepreneur is making ten dollars an hour or ten thousand dollars an hour, if they have no help and are the only one running the business, they have the same level of exposure to losing everything. So yes, the average entrepreneur is in a massive state of risk.
So many of us stay small and purposefully suppress our companies. Some subconsciously and others consciously live in fear and pretend it isn't there. Most, well, over 90% will stay this way. Here's the challenge for us as entrepreneurs. It doesn't matter who you are, how good you are, what you've learned, or what you understand. You cannot overcome the fact that 100% of the activities required to start a business have to transition for you to have long-term growth and success.
I'll show you what I mean.
To start a business, you execute. To grow the business, you delegate. When you start a business, you do everything. Anyone who has ever started a business knows this. To scale the company, you must specialize. At the beginning of a new business, you drive the day-to-day. When you get to the point of growing that business, you manage and lead the day-to-day. When you start a business, you sell to every single customer. I know I have. When you grow the company, you create a customer service and sales strategy. When you start the business, you work tirelessly doing everything, but you can't scale that way because when you grow the company, you have to create a performance culture that everyone can play their part in.
When you start a business, you execute and strategize the plan to transition to long-term success. In the beginning, you focus on a to-do list. To grow the business, you focus on the future. When you launch the business, you sell yourself and the company. When you scale the business, you sell the vision of the company to those around you. When you begin, you create all of the values. As you grow, you build a team, and you create and support core values. To increase the company, you have to transition that energy to growth, profitability, and stability. In launching the business, you build a customer list. In growing the business, you create a management team.
The activities are entirely different, but the challenge is, the vast majority of entrepreneurs will stay doing everything themselves. Why? Because as human beings, we are subject to the conditioning of the world around us. When we start a business, it can be one of the most challenging times of our lives. In fact, I often ask entrepreneurs when I'm speaking, or when I'm talking to entrepreneurs when I have a group of them around me, how hard was it to start your business? You'd be shocked at the answers because what people say is that it was by far the hardest thing they ever did in their lives.
They say it was like life and death. There is nothing like it. In fact, I had a student in my class, who had survived cancer and when we were having this conversation, someone in the class said, “Which was harder, cancer or starting your business?” You may be shocked, but he said, “starting the business.” The level of exposure, the level of ambiguity, the level of threat that we deal with, is overwhelming. That's why we have to overcome the entrepreneur's dilemma. There's a bridge to your full potential and a way to get out of this. We both know you're not going to stop, you can't turn it off, and you probably wonder why anyone would even try.
This is the path to your greatest contribution.
I've studied some of the most successful people in history. I've gotten the opportunity to work side by side with them, and here's what I can tell you about people who move the world around like puzzle pieces, they are proactively transparent. They tell the people around them what they need because they know to reach their full potential; they must have the protection and support of the people around them. That's why billionaires are wholly and totally dependent on the people around them, but they're also dedicated to people.
Now, I know it can feel intimidating. I know it can feel like too much to think about asking for the level of support, the level of protection it takes to build a company, build a team, create profitability, and grow. But you can do this one step at a time. It doesn't have to be all at once, and it doesn't ever have to be overwhelming, too much, or a lot. When you look at some of the most successful companies in history, the teams who built them were small.
Warren Buffett needed less than 60 people at Berkshire Hathaway Corporate to control the most successful company in history. Sure, there were tens of thousands of people working in the businesses that they managed, but Berkshire Hathaway had only 58, and it was the number one most successful company in history. Buffett knew his strengths, and not one of them is being around people. It's not just who he is. When we look at recent history, Instagram only had 13 people on the team when it was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars. That's overwhelming, 13 people created a billion dollars in wealth.
See, the opportunity for us to get the protection and support we need today is more accessible. So much of that protection and support has been provided by the entrepreneurs that have walked the path before us. They've written the books, left the programs behind the code, information, shortcuts, and the lessons for you and me to learn and absorb so that we can do even more.
WhatsApp only had 55 people when it sold for 16 billion dollars. So, don't think that protection and support needs to be overwhelming. Don't think you can't do this, not even for a minute because here's the fact about people like you and I. We need protection and support because we have strengths that should be protected at all costs because that's where our success comes from. We should be supported everywhere else.
The challenge for most entrepreneurs today is that they've been convinced there's something wrong with them, so they're constantly focused on improving their weaknesses. This presents a challenge because if you spend your entire life trying to improve your weaknesses, you will find that at the end of your life, you have some pretty strong flaws. If you lean into your strengths and get support everywhere else, you will find that you will live a transformational life.
When we are properly supported and we lower pressure and noise, our entrepreneurial attributes come out. Our ability to grow a business, influence, help people, and make our greatest contribution shows itself throughout commitment to be transparent and overcoming the entrepreneurial dilemma. When we get the protection and support we need, we become transformational leaders.