“When are your new courses launching?” said my eager students.
“Haven’t you been working on them for months?” said my mother.
“What do you do every day?” said my friend.
As I entered into Month (X) of new course development, I started to wonder what I really do every day.
How is it that every day I’m doing something, but it feels like I’m doing nothing?
Enters the “entrepreneur’s grind” — a pre-launch angst that every entrepreneur, creator, author, musician, artisan goes through before their work is ready to be released to the world.
Sometimes, it is because we run on what some would called the “old-school business model” — we test the market with surveys and focus groups, we create, we promote, we profit, hopefully.
It is the opposite of the new hot child — venture capital-backed startups that raise capital based on ideas and projections gleaned from industry data and initial business performance; run with the cash; and raise again until profit reaches enough positive digits on its own.
Now weeks to launch, I am coming to terms with this daily anxiety that is often guilt-ridden and self-doubt-inducing.
Stick To The Grind If This Applies To Your Business
Believe it or not, the majority of businesses in this world isn’t the right fit for venture capital.
Sometimes, if you live inside a tech bubble, it may seem like everyone is raising money and becoming instant millionaires.
There is a reason that the pizza joint that’s been round for 30 years in your neighborhood hasn’t attracted the slightest attention from a Silicon Valley VC.
Has the owner of Giovanni’s become a millionaire? Perhaps if they franchised it; perhaps if business did really well; but perhaps not.
With that being said, if they are profiting, they have a sound business model.
The first thing every entrepreneur needs to do is to assess the nature of their business. Does it need venture capital to get off the ground?
Resist the urge to automatically think yes and think about it resourcefully. If the answer is yes, as it is for many ambitious tech products, then perhaps the old-school “grind” isn’t the right approach.
If the answer is no, stick to the grind.
An entrepreneurship program I attended earlier this year taught me a great concept.
If your product is a vitamin — I don’t mean a literal vitamin product — it doesn’t need a VC, nor will a VC be interested.
If your product is the equivalent of a painkiller, say hello to a VC.
Uber and Airbnb are painkillers because a vast number of people could be interested in using their service.
Their product solves problems that have not been solved before. It is ground-breaking and revolutionary.
Not every business has to be like that. Not every business can be like that.
There is nothing wrong with being a vitamin. Did you know that the supplements industry is worth $35.7 billion in 2021?
As a “vitamin” business, there is nothing you can do but stick to the grind in the initial stages. Without a great product, there’s nothing you can sell.
A great product requires an extended amount of time to develop. Find a way to sustain yourself while you are “doing the time”.
Don’t Omit Market Testing and Competitor Research
One thing that I did before committing to the “grind” is market testing.
As I began to build up an active community for my educational programs, I organized several focus groups and conducted online surveys among my target audience — people who want to change or pursue careers in design.
In order to create a full educational program, I need to know what students are interested in. I can’t base it off of what I think they need.
Business is not art, although art can turn into business.
The focus groups yielded rich qualitative data that I used to develop curriculum.
Unlike other businesses, I understand that education businesses need a reputation and trust before selling can begin.
That’s why in the first four months, we focused on free offerings as a way to build community and trust.
It certainly worked — we have accumulated ~2,000 subscribers through our free offerings in a couple of months. It is a small number compared to big brands with 100k+ plus subscribers, but it is a start that now has turned into organic word of mouth.
I learned that “the grind” needs to include your pre-work in finding out who you are up against and what the market wants or doesn’t want from you.
The time I spent on studying my competitors and talking to their customers was the additional and critical validation that I need for my offerings.
So there we have it — “the grind” of entrepreneurship can be incredibly isolating, but it doesn’t mean we are burying our heads under the sand.
In fact, we need to keep our eyes out constantly while riding the camel across the vast Saharan desert that is entrepreneurship.
Test, validate and grind — no, not in that way, if you get my drift.
Before Beyonce Comes Out With New Songs, She Feels The Same As You
Earlier this year, I went out with a musician who actually put the words into this namely feeling I have been plagued with most of the year.
He said: “Did you ever feel like you’re doing something every day but you are doing nothing?”
That’s when I realized that Beyonce could have had the same feeling when she was preparing for her new albums.
Okay, maybe not exactly the same. It certainly helps to have a mountain of resources as Beyonce and we are not Beyonce, yet.
But the spirit is the same. If you know you are creating a good product, imagine what it feels like to finally be able to tell other people about it and help the lives of those who eventually use it.
The “grind” is temporary but the effect of your product can last for a long, long time.
Blanket Comparison Is The Mother of All Sorrows
One of the hardest things to witness day after day while in the “grind” is the smashing success of others, or what appears to be that way.
Especially if you started your business roughly around the same time as other people you know and their business seems to be way ahead of yours.
I certain felt that way many times this year.
Whenever this feeling hits me, I reminded myself that I felt the same way when I changed my career from broadcast journalism to design after college. All of my classmates were doing well in their first jobs and getting promoted — I was back to Square One.
Years later, I can confidently say that it was a small price to pay for me to go into the right direction. The perceived “lag” behind everyone else’s progress quickly got washed away by the progress I made once I went on to the career track that made me happy.
Blanket comparison is the mother of all sorrows. Don’t let that cloud your judgment.
As you come out of the end of the tunnel, and yes you will, know that you have built up an incredible ability to tune out noises that few can do.
After all, resilience is the foundation of entrepreneurship and a life that is unapologetically vibrant.