When you start a business, it’s like being thrown overboard.
Every person I have known that has been on a cruise knows one undeniable thing: that cruise can go one way or another. It can be amazing or terrible. There really is no in-between.
Businesses Are Cruise Ships
When you start a business, the ship that you’re being thrown off of is like a discount cruise line. When you work for someone else, there is usually a moment when you realize you’re on a mediocre cruise line. By that I mean the food is kind of like the food at your college cafeteria. The entertainment is the rejects from American Idol. And you’re constantly seasick.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a miserable time to me.
There are a few benefits to this discount ship. You are safe, secure, fed, and you have a place to sleep. It may not be the Ritz Carlton of the high seas, but it is comfortable. Now imagine that before you start a business, you’re standing on the deck and looking over the railings thinking “I wonder if life could be different. I wonder if there is another way to sail these seas.”
Before you know it, somebody has come along and thrown you overboard while you stand on the rail and dream. Why? The reasons may be vast and varied. Someone else might need your room: meaning the company has found a way to get what you do done more cheaply. Or they may be eliminating rooms altogether: in other words, the company is downsizing.
The other situation may be that you have jumped overboard as well, because you can’t stand the way of life any longer and you know there is a new reality out there for you. For whatever reason, you are now completely immersed in an ice cold ocean called “Reality.” If you don’t do something quickly you are going to drown.
This is just like starting your own business. It’s important for you to know this because you may think you know what the waters will feel like but you don’t. Until you actually immerse yourself in it, there is no possible way to be prepared.
Year One: Craft a Raft
The first year of business is basically just like when you first jump into the waters. Your instincts kick in and you start kicking and clawing and paddling your way up to the surface!
You realize that life can be different than the one that you had on board, but you have to be the one to build the raft. No one will give you a raft, no one is going to rescue you. You have to be the one to prepare the new form of transportation. You are responsible for your own rescue.
So you fight and claw and paddle your way to the surface. You poke your face just above the surface and start gasping for air. Little by little, shreds and pieces of debris and driftwood come your way. You start collecting them, binding them together, and forming your own ship.
That breaking through and cobbling together of a raft is symbolic of the first year of running your own business. Many people do not make it past this first year. Many people cannot keep their heads above water long enough to build their own life raft let alone build the luxury liner they were envisioning when they were either thrown overboard or made the jump by choice.
Year Two: A Bigger Boat
If you make it past the first year, then you spend the next year gathering more pieces of sea debris and continuing to fortify and grow your ship. This is where Think Digital is at right now! We’re nearing the end of our second year. We’ve grown our ship to the point where other people can fit on it and are being supported by it.
Year Three: Enter the Enemies
But the danger isn’t over yet – because the third year is when the sharks come. That’s when you really see what you’re made of. That’s where your ship begins to support you and others, but it also helps you fend off any predators that want to take you out.
These sharks can be anything from competitors to the bank to poor cash flow planning to HR issues to bad team members. There is an endless line of sharks waiting to munch on you and take you out.
After the third year something happens. The storms stop. You get the sharks under control and you even find ways to utilize them to power your business. After the third year, you really start to pick up steam. That is when your ship starts to really take shape and you start sailing towards the life that you imagined as you were toppling over the rail on that old mediocre cruise ship.
The key is this: upwards of 50% of startup businesses do not make it out of the first 3 years. There’s a reason for that! Because fighting your way to the surface, building your own life raft, and then growing it into the luxury liner you imagined is really hard.
The Price of Admission
While it is hard, it is the price of admission. Every single preconceived idea I had about entrepreneurship has been almost categorically wrong. It is an exhausting ride, but it is a thrilling ride, and I would not have it any other way.
Many of you reading this post need to understand this metaphor of building a business before you start. It is a fight and it is a struggle. It may look easy from the outside. Go ahead and think about a business that you idolize. I guarantee you that every single person attached to that business has fought through this struggle. It may not have lasted as long, but they have been through it.
The price of entry is fighting this battle, and it is a glorious price. Once you pay it you can begin to see and taste the new reality that you know exists. Listen to and nurture that voice inside that is aiming for the luxury liner, but don’t be surprised when you find yourself under water fighting for your life.