So for the last couple of months, I've been supplying documents to do a final audit of one of my companies, as I prepare to wind it up.
And my reflection on this awful period is this: If you want to start a company, be prepared to do the absolute worst bit of it you'll ever have to do. For me, this is preparing the paperwork for getting audited.
So my summary is that sometimes — luckily rarely, but definitely sometimes — running your own business is exactly as fun as getting audited.
I remember when a friend of mine told me, starry eyed, that he was "starting a startup".
"I love this!" he said. "It's so much fun." He proudly showed me a notebook full of designs of a product that he was building. Every day, he said, he would draw up new designs, and it was exciting letting his imagination grow wild.
That was many years ago, before I had ventured out much on my own, but even then I imagined there must be many stages to starting a successful business, and that surely many (or even most) of them are not fun.
(Note: He did eventually launch his business and sell it later, and told me of many of the hard bits along the way. But he's now starting his second one, so I guess for him, the pros outweighed the cons.)
There was also a time in the past when I was considering opening a café, something many a coffee aficionado has idly mused about.
I spent a week talking to as many café owners as possible in San Francisco, gathering intel. One of them succinctly summarised the response that many café owners had given me:
"You don't start a café because you want to make coffee," he said. "You start a café because you want to sweep floors."
After I had heard a few stories of good cafés in expensive cities struggling to pay a decent working wage to the owner — despite them putting in 12+ hour days — that dream was quashed (for now, and at least as a profit-making enterprise).
These days, as I am spending hour after hour providing countless documents to the auditor of one of my companies, I want to say this: you start a company if you are prepared to one day get audited. And getting audited is not fun if you're not good at paperwork.
Maybe you are good at paperwork, or maybe you're paying for a bookkeeper. In that case — substitute "getting audited" for whatever your version of hell is, be it awkward conversations, troubleshooting complicated technology, or whatever.
I don't mean to say it's all terrible. Obviously, there are lots of great parts or nobody would do it.
Running your own business means the joy of creating something, happy customers who say nice things to you, controlling your own destiny, and money in the bank (ideally). That's why we do it.
But you should really think about the worst bits and think: Am I willing to suffer through those bad bits for the benefit of the good ones?
Some of the other bad things, aside from getting audited, are:
- Your income is unstable and 100% caused by what you do. How much money you make will change depend on external market forces, supply and demand flux, your ability to prioritise and execute, your servers randomly failing, etc. When you have a job, you get a fixed amount in the bank periodically.
- You will have to have many awkward conversations with strangers, customers, and people you love. You might have to cold-call prospects, give customer support, and have "performance" conversations with employees who are now your friends (or worse, who were your friends beforehand), break up with your business partners, and more.
So, what's my point? Starting a startup isn't this:
I mean... a startup is that sometimes. (Then you leave because it's hot and you're getting sand in your keyboard).
But at other times, it's piles of paper, annoying errands, and wondering why things aren't "working".
If you can stomach the bad stuff, then you also get to enjoy the beach views.