The Eureka Moment, Part I: Is Entrepreneurship for You?

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Ivy Chuang, Knoend.
Ivy Chuang, Knoend.
My company Knoend just officially passed the three-year mark in June; it feels like an eternity and a short dream simultaneously. At this milestone, I've taken some time for reflection and I'd like to share some advice with all who have entertained the thought of becoming an entrepreneur.

"Eureka!" was supposedly first exclaimed by Archimedes in Ancient Greek times when he discovered a method of measuring volume by water displacement. Some may also know that it is California's state motto, referring to the discovery of gold and for the admittance of the state to the Union.

Archimedes and his famous discovery.
Archimedes and his famous discovery.
What I'm calling the Eureka Moment, is when someone realizes that they have something unique to offer the world, and decides to package it themselves. This spark could be a new product idea, it could be a convergence of know-how, or it could be a variation of what the person down the street is already offering. The Eureka Moment is different for everyone, and can come at any point in your career. Often, this "A-ha!" moment is what propels people to start their own businesses.

If you are a creative person looking to start your own business, the best thing you can ever do is to find a partner that is completely uncreative. Find someone who is organized to obsessive levels, gets a kick out of balancing the books, and is a no-nonsense militant when it comes to collecting money, negotiating contracts, and reviewing legal documents. If you don't find such a partner, be prepared to switch off your creativity and train yourself in those areas, or you can always team up with someone with some of those strengths and split the responsibilities.

The truth is, to a certain degree the business side of things requires little or no creativity. In fact, the less creative the better. You don't want accounting to be reinvented in any way, spontaneous sales is not a stable growth strategy, and company operations run optimally when things do not change abruptly. Not to say that a creative person cannot function in these areas, they surely can. The point is that no one person can cover all bases. If you are a sole owner, continue to spend extra time on the things that you are the worst at and eventually those tasks will become more routine and less taxing.

Are you left brain? Find a right. Are you right brain? Find a left. Take the test here.

Since starting my company, I find that I get to be creative less than 10 percent of the time. The rest of my time is distributed among accounting, sales, business development, marketing, public relations, product management, operations, and networking. Even if what you are offering is creativity, the rest of the resources required to bring your product or service to market can be decidedly uncreative.

There are magazines, websites, books, and other small business resources chock full of advice about how to take the leap, but here are some tips that I wish I had heard and haven't really seen anywhere else.

#1 Get ready for emotional ups and downs.
I was ready for financial instability; after all, I was unemployed right before starting my business, so I was doubling up on that risk. However, I was completely unprepared for the emotional roller coaster that comes with being your own boss. Things can change any day for your business, a piece of great news sends you on cloud nine, and within a few hours a new disaster will appear on your desk and pull you down quick. It's not always so drastic day to day. The cycle of good and bad may be irregular, but it is unavoidable. Even outside of occurrences, you may notice that your mood swings cycle with wider variance as well. You'll question your dedication, then think you were meant to do the job, then get apprehensive about the investment that you've risked, then feel the freedom is worth the solitude.

Don't let the good go to your head, don't let the bad beat you down. It's easier said than done, but it's the key to staying on track.

#2 Things take a lot longer to accomplish than you expect.
If you've ever worked in an environment with a support structure, there are certain timelines that you have come to expect. Even in school, you will not realize how many resources are available and working for you. When you own your own business, that support structure usually is stripped down to the bare necessities, so even the easiest tasks will take a much longer timeline. Even small businesses with some size will still need to work out operational efficiency. However, when you're just starting out, remember that you're fumbling through the dark in a way, just learning to walk. Don't be surprised if you miss most if not all deadlines you set for yourself initially.

#3 Make peace with failure.
You will fail. Again and again and again. There are going to be mountains of mistakes. Could have, would have, should haves. Acceptance of failure is different for everyone, so it's up to the person how they want to cope. Personally, I try to acknowledge the mistake and fully admit it before I move on. Then I remind myself, that the whole endeavor may fail, that is the nature of things, but whatever I do, it is my choice and so I live my choices.

I remember sitting on an Ecopreneur panel for a Young Women's Social Entrepreneurs' workshop last year and recalling that among the four members of the panel, I seemed to be the most pessimistic. I remember emphasizing just how difficult everything was while everyone else was extolling the highlights. It's interesting because it isn't often that people draw attention to failures and struggles, in the small business magazines, you'll find article on article on how to succeed--I've never seen an article about how to file for Chapter 11 the right way, or how to liquidate inventory in the best manner.

There are a couple of entrepreneur memoirs that I've read that are unabashedly honest, and thus, refreshing and pleasurable to read. Even if you have no inkling of desire to start a business, you'll feel part of an adventure just by reading them.

Let My People go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia's founder takes us through the evolution of his accidental business that grew out of experimentation with rock climbing tools. He shares with us the story of his legendary outdoor company with an authentic voice.

Mousedriver Chronicles by John Lusk and Kyle Harrison. Two entrepreneurs take us through their experiences in the development of a business selling computer mice shaped like the head of a golf club. I laughed at loud reading this book; many of the chapters echoed my own recent experiences. I haven't been as diligent about recording Knoend's chronicles, but reading this book sure made me think maybe I should.

Starting my own business has had its fair share of mistakes and disasters, but it was the best thing that I have ever done for myself. It has been the most validating, most challenging experience. In the next part of this series, I'll get into some of the factors that make it all worthwhile.

Check out the next post in the series: The Eureka Moment Part II: Is Entrepreneurship Worth It?


Ivy Chuang is the founder and design director of Knoend, a San Francisco-based studio with sustainability and innovation at its core. She is a nomad, surfer, cook and occasional artist.
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