Canadian Mike Assad believes that entrepreneurs are fueled by uncertainty and that’s what give them energy and sustenance.
Mike started his own entrepreneurial journey early – with a paper route when he was ten years old (partnering with a brother who quickly lost interest in cold early mornings). He and his two brothers then ran a chip wagon in high school, where they sold burgers and fries to hungry customers.
To put himself through a university, he started a web design business and, after graduation, in 2001, he got a job “right when the dot.com bubble burst.” Mike lost his job after only three weeks and was “devastated.”
But, he got up, dusted himself off – and then, with a friend, created a software consulting business that evolved into a web content management company. He recently sold that business to his former partner and is now a partner at a product engineering firm.
“In my 36 years of life,” he says, “I’ve never had a job that I didn’t create for myself” (except for that job that only lasted three weeks!).
When asked about the three most important characteristics of an entrepreneur, Mike listed being a self-starter first. “When you’re an entrepreneur,” he says, “no one tells you what to do. You have to figure it out for yourself. If you’re the person who takes charge and gets things done, you might be an entrepreneur.”
Mike concedes that this can be pretty scary, especially at first. “When you work for a company, you can wait for your boss or manager to tell you what to do but that’s not how it works when you’re an entrepreneur. When you have your own company, you can’t be afraid of doing what you think is right and you can’t be afraid of making mistakes. You need to push yourself and your company forward and then adapt to outcomes, whether positive or negative.”
Are you a young entrepreneur?
If so, you’ve got a getting-started advantage that Mike didn’t have – and that’s all of the Internet resources that didn’t yet exist. We recommend these three as starters:
- U.S. Small Business Administration’s young entrepreneur series
- Inc.com’s list of the 30 coolest American entrepreneurs who are under the age of 30
- Entrepreneur.com’s section for young entrepreneurs
Meanwhile, Mike recommends:
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
- Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You
- Reading startup blogs: “there is really good knowledge out there that people are willing to share and it’s a great way to keep up to date.”
And, here’s more advice from Mike, who has been there, done that.
What about uncertainty?
It’s Mike’s position that, not only does an entrepreneur need to deal with uncertainty to be successful, he or she also needs to thrive on uncertainty. “Customers come and go, products succeed and fail, money comes in fast – and then not at all. But, if you keep your head up high, no matter what life brings, you may just be an entrepreneur.”
He also believes that this is an innate trait in certain people, as it’s pretty hard to develop a love of uncertainty. “Most people, especially those with a family, like certainty, and the lack of it can be very stressful.”
He considers the ability to live with an uncertainty to be a “spectrum,” adding that “I got a rush of adrenaline when I didn’t know what was going to happen, especially in my 20s. I’m getting somewhat less like that, though, as I age.”
WashingtonTechnology.com offers tips on how you can continue to thrive during uncertain times and, if you’d like to take a deep dive into the subject, consider the book titled The Uncertain Mind: Individual Differences in Facing the Unknown by Psychology Press.
Persistence pays off
“It’s easy,” Mike says, “to stroll into work when times are great and the money is flowing. But how do you feel when something goes wrong and there’s no one to blame or to comfort you? If you get right back up when life knocks you down, you might be an entrepreneur.”
Mike contrasts himself against one of his two brothers. “He gets embarrassed and gives up if he doesn’t quickly succeed,” he shares. “Meanwhile, I have enjoyed the punishment. Whether I’m golfing or working as an entrepreneur, I might swear and get red in the face, but I keep going until I literally can’t take it. I have to achieve my goals!”
He considers persistence to be more “teachable” than thriving on uncertainty, saying that you can build up confidence over time. “If you get knocked to a step, you don’t need to stay on that step,” he says, “and getting knocked down might ultimately be taking you in the right direction.”
Breaking Up a Company is Easy to Do
It was in 2002 that Mike and his friend Jon started a web development business together. For the first nine years, they were “earning money, awards and accolades.” And, when “business was booming it was all high fives and backslapping. Every decision we made seemed easy and brilliant. Everyone bought into the culture. No one questioned our vision.”
But then all leveled off and tensions rose. And, we’ve all heard horror stories about harsh words and even harsher feelings arising from breaking up businesses, but Mike shares how he and Jon did so amicably, keeping their 20-year friendship intact. Even if you don’t plan a partnership, his post is worth a read.
Mike’s advice for entrepreneurs
“If you don’t mind selling services, meaning your time, as a business, then you can build your business by referrals and by getting repeat business. You basically do the best you can to keep customers happy and referring you. If you have a product business, though,” he adds, “you need to do some work before you begin to scale.”
He expands upon that thought. “If you create a product that the market needs, the market will basically pull that product from you, whether it’s finished or not. If you can feel that pull, it’s time to scale that product. If you aren’t yet feeling that pull, though, create the minimum viable product that you can release to test the market fit first.”
What traits do you think are most important for an entrepreneur? Leave them in the comments below.