COLUMBUS, Ohio — As a startup veteran, Tanisha Robinson likes to meet aspiring entrepreneurs over coffee or drinks.
Her advice is almost always the same: Don’t do it.
While there’s a perception today that startups are fun and that nerds are cool, the truth is that building a business is just incredibly challenging with twists, turns and the constant fear of “public failure.”
That’s why Robinson, the CEO and co-founder of Print Syndicate, delivered a talk at Columbus Startup Week on Monday afternoon about why it’s a terrible idea to do a startup. Here are some of the reasons she gave:
1. Your boss is an a**hole: “Yes, we all hate jerks…. In starting a business, you are not going to have an opportunity to avoid jerks just because you founded and run your own business. In many cases, you actually may hire some accidentally. You will have partners and vendors and all types of people. If you do have a boss you don’t like, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the elements of leadership that they embody, and think about the leader you want to be so you can apply that.”
2. Your current job is not your dream job: “A lot of my day is not really that fun. I have way too many attorneys and accountants, and spend a lot of time on infrastructure and talking to my board and talking to my investors. And that is really not the fun of it for me. I thoroughly like talking to my team and moving the business forward. But I don’t get to do the parts of my job that I love all of the time…. There are lots of stories of people who love baking, and then open a bakery and it’s their job, and then they have to bake enough cupcakes to feed themselves. And then they don’t like baking anymore. It is worth thinking about the context. If you love something, it may be better remaining a hobby, and not your business.”
3. You don’t have a career plan, so just start a business: “It takes a lot of drive and passion and focus, and a lot of energy to start a business. So, if you don’t have that towards a particular industry or a particular opportunity, then I would say round up some money and you can buy a franchise, and then you can own a business but you don’t have to think about the strategy of scaling and it being completely all-consuming.”
4. You want to own your schedule and do a ‘4-hour work week’: “That book is one of the greatest disservices… That guy doesn’t even have a 4-hour work week…. Even on vacation, I am 100 percent on call…. I am literally chained to my business — not that I have a problem with that — but I absolutely am never, ever completely detached from it. You will never be away, if you are ultimately responsible. Yes, I am the CEO of the company, and I pick up the garbage. It is not as glamorous as it looks.”
5. You want to get rich: “In many cases it will make you broke, and in some cases it will make you work really, really hard to make a reasonable living wage…. When we started print syndicate, I liquidated all of my savings. That was my cash investment. So, truly, ll of my net worth is tied up in my business, so that is great that I am a millionaire on paper, but if we don’t ever exit, then I was a millionaire on paper. There is a lot of sacrifice, and there are many stories of business owner who don’t cash their paychecks in order make payroll clear. That is more common than people who have businesses that are worth a billion dollars…. It’s an absolute slog, and it’s hard and it’s really painful.”
6. You want to work with your friends: “If the company is running out of capital: Is everyone willing to pony up cash to keep it going. On the other side of it, if you have a couple partners and the money starts flowing, and if you don’t have the same priorities and goals for the business, one partner says re-invest, and the other partner says cocaine. That has not happened to me, I have just heard that that happens. You have to be in the same game. And so my co-founder and I went through a process with a consultant to see if our values are aligned.”
7. You want to be cool like the guys on Silicon Valley: “I know that is a subjective thing on whether those guys are cool or not, but they show the melodrama of the VCs. But the reality is, they don’t show those guys in a room sitting around for 16 hours a day — and they will never indicate how bad that room probably smells.”
8. You want to control your own destiny: “You might have a great idea, and capital and the right team, and then Google might launch the same thing a week before you do. That actually happened to me, so we killed the company. Yes, I am a serial entrepreneur but I have killed a few in their cribs, because they were not going to live. There is a lot of luck and timing, and the market has to be right.”
9. You want to quickly lead a successful company: “One thing to think about is: How long is it going to take to lift the rock off the ground.”