The Blog - Where Business Collides with Human Nature

The Dark Side of Being an Entrepreneur


The Realities of Building Your Own Company from the Perspective of a REAL Entrepreneur

  • Passion, ambition and zeal should come to your projects in a balanced manner, otherwise, the hustle culture can quickly become toxic.  
  • Not all days of being your own boss are shiny and happy - decision fatigue is a real thing

Entrepreneurship is the buzzword in today’s time - hustling is the mantra to get things done, check the goals off your list and reach business milestones. Starting up from ground zero is an exciting activity, feeling passionate about work and being your own boss sounds like a dream. All the entrepreneurs live this dream. Or at least, it seems so on the surface. The reality of what goes behind being an entrepreneur is starkly different. Let me round up the darker side of being an entrepreneur and of what goes on behind the scenes in creating and expanding a brand or product.

The Fear of Failure can be heart-stopping

The fear of failure can take many forms, especially when you are starting from scratch. There’s a constant sword on our heads that we have to live up to the promises made and the expectations set, even though we might be involved in projects never done before. Every time we add in new products to our existing lines, we spend a lot in its research and development, sales and marketing. There is a constant fear of committing a mistake of massive proportions that can impale your business. The fear never leaves when you are running a business, because uncertainty is everywhere, but the fear is very real when you are starting out. You still have to prove your abilities and your mettle to all the onlookers and one mistake can overturn everything.

Over time, you develop coping mechanisms. For example, every time I onboard a new client for a big furniture order at Eco Office, I make a list of all the risks and opportunities involved. If I think I am taking on a custom order for the first time, I try to minimize those risks and tap into the opportunities. 

The everyday life of an entrepreneur is...well, boring

When I started building the client base for Eco Office, there were days I would repeatedly pitch the same idea to clients over and over again - once at the point of contact, once again to their manager, yet again to the higher authority in their organization, and so on. If I am being honest, there was a time when the pitch had become second nature to me - I had memorized the script without even trying. I was pitching it every day of the week to different clients, different people within the same client organization and at vendor conferences and events. It can get uninspiring and drab if you don’t approach it with a massive amount of enthusiasm and passion. 

Because the idea of entrepreneurship has been so glamorized over the years, we often forget the daily grind that goes behind the awards and the summits and the presentations. Behind one evening of glitz at an awards ceremony, there are months of boring work - going into the office, working on the website/portal/app, fixing bugs, responding to customer queries, watching numbers and statistics like a hawk, going home. 

This exercise is repeated, day in and day out, to reach those goals and milestones that may cause a disruption in the market. Rinse and repeat. The reason is that achieving any milestone comes with a lot of consistency and dedication. And consistency is the hardest part of this whole plan. While it is true that there are many uncertainties and challenges thrown in the way of an entrepreneur, the real test of determination is going over the same projects, running the same trials over and over until you get it right. 

Being your own boss is a huge task

When people talk about being in-charge they only see the pros - you set your own schedule, you make the calls, you report to your own self. Those can very easily be the downsides too. When you are in charge of everything that goes on in your organization, you are taking on responsibility for people’s lives, their income and their careers. Having to make so many decisions can be overwhelming and eats up your brain space. 

I often find myself onboarding new team members and assigning them responsibilities the same day as I welcome a major client and approve a marketing campaign for a product. My point is, I make more decisions every hour than I can count on my fingers. It makes us susceptible to decision fatigue, a condition wherein extensive decision-making can cause low self-control and willpower, or even poor decision-making after a point of time. It is like we reach a break-even point beyond which the decision-making is impaired or impulsive or both. 

Decision fatigue and exhaustion can be a crippling feeling - as an entrepreneur, the decision-making never stops, and periods of decision fatigue can impede the progress you have made so far. Having a predictable daily routine helps combat decision fatigue, but we all know it is hard to predict with certainty what a day in the business is going to look like.

Balancing between the need for control versus letting go for the larger good

As the one making decisions and undertaking novel developments, you often find yourself at a crossroads - whether to do everything yourself or if you can, delegate it to others in the team? Because the brand and the organization has a lot riding on your name, you may be hesitant to share the power, but you will soon realize you only have time and energy to do so much - beyond that, you have to let go, either completely or by delegating.

People are one of the most important ingredients of any company. When you are building the company from scratch, it is up to you to decide how you want to deal with the people that are working for you. Unlike bots or computer systems, human interaction necessitates a certain level of emotional quotient too. How are you going to address workplace conflicts? Who is going to have the strongest voice when it comes to specific decisions? What will the employee hierarchy look like? What will be the chain of communication? All these decisions will have major implications for how well people in your organization will and can get along. Human interactions are not just limited to the in-house team, either. There are third-party vendors, service providers, clients and customers to look after too!

I have been in situations where a potential client wasn’t the easiest to work with - but the deal and the contract would have meant steady business for us. I have had to adapt my systems to suit the client’s needs. It meant that I had to let go of the systems that helped me keep things in control and add some bits and mechanisms that were foreign to my working style. I looked at the costs and the benefits of the changes and went ahead if the benefits surpass the costs. 

Burnout is very real

The definition of success for an entrepreneur has been built around the hustle culture - if you are working odd hours and till late at night, it must mean you are nearing a breakthrough. What this mentality doesn’t account for is that the constant stress involved in building a brand and an organization of your own. There are plenty of logistical, human resource and strategic decisions to be made. The narrative in the start-up zeitgeist is that of overwork - this doesn’t help matters either.

A recent study by the University of San Francisco researcher Michael A. Freeman found that almost half of the people in entrepreneurial engagements are stuck with a mental health crisis. It also mentioned how entrepreneurs are twice as likely to suffer from depression! There are prolonged periods of stress and high demand work but burning out to the point of exhaustion should not be the answer. More often than not, the work-life balance becomes elusive. Your relationships need adjustment - your family and your partners may often have to bear the brunt of it all.

They don’t tell you the risks to your physical, emotional and mental health when they bug you into hustling hard. I have been lucky to not have reached a crisis point, but I make it a point to use the weekends to replenish my energies and to restore my passion. 

Author Bio:

Tess-CainTess Cain is Project Manager at Eco-Office, a one-stop-shop for all the furniture needs in Bay Area, catering to clients like UC Davis, Stanford University, Hitachi, Toyota, HP and many others.

She has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and was President of the Women’s Club Soccer Team at Cal State Chico.

Topics: Entrepreneurship Failure