I've made three great decisions in my life. The first was to marry Veronica Vidana, a cute Hispanic girl I met when I was still a teenager. The second was to become a father. But not just any father – a man who desires to win the hearts of my children. And the third was to chase a dream--to create the life I wanted by starting my own business.
If you don't know my story, I was born and raised in Rancho Cucamonga, California to a blue collar worker and a stay-at-home mother. I made average grades, lived an ordinary childhood, and ended up with an incredible story.
In January 2004, I remember sitting at my desk writing an English paper during my second semester at Chaffey Community College. I was overwhelmed and defeated at the idea that I was re-experiencing high school again. And this time, I was paying $400 a month for it!
I remember the moment. I stopped writing. I closed my computer. I walked over to my roommate and said, "I'm dropping out of college and starting a business."
I had no idea how much that day would change my life. Today, I've launched nearly a dozen companies with over $25 million in revenue. I've become a trusted advisor to Facebook, Adobe, Chick-fil-a, Panasonic, State Farm, and The Ritz-Carlton. I have freedom to do what I want, when I want, with who I want.
My wife and I now live on a farm where we raise our children in the backdrop of glacier-topped mountains and crisp Northwest air. We have no debt, take vacations when we please and have money to give to friends, family, and charities in need.
But looking back, I've come to realize much of my early success was found in having the correct answers to a few difficult questions. Questions that brought clarity to very unsure times. Questions I still ask myself today before I start something new.
Here are The 8 Questions I Ask Myself Before Starting A Business:
1. Am I starting this business to make money or to do what I love?
Walt Disney famously said, "We don't make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies." Money is a weak motivator for those destined for greatness. If you merely want to become rich, starting a business will be a shallow experience. If you're starting a business that brings immense purpose to your life, entrepreneurship will be the beginning of a fulfilling existence.
2. Is this really a good time for me to start this business?
In his famous six-minute TED Talk, Bill Gross determines that the number one factor of startup success is timing. Launching too late or too early can lead to diminishing consumer interest and eventual failure. But more than the external market, is the timing correct for your personal life? Will you be able to carve out the margin required to pursue this dream without compromising your relationships and health?
3. Will my business solve required, urgent, and painful problems?
At the center of every successful business is a remarkable ability to solve a customer's problem. But not just any problem. The most successful startups solve required problems (think toilet paper over cologne), urgent problems (think insomnia over foot odor), and painful problems (think debt and collections over disorganized receipts). For a more in-depth teaching on how to effectively solve problems, read this.
4. Am I willing to suffer for my success?
The word passion is defined as, "A willingness to suffer for something you love." Starting a business is difficult. Is this business something you're willing to suffer for? Are you willing to lose sleep and to live in moments of creative and mental distress? As I mentioned in a previous lesson, "If this business is simply what makes you happy, you’ll quit doing it when it gets tough, when it becomes too risky, and when you’re ignored and mocked. But if this business is an authentic passion, you’ll be willing to continue even if it almost kills you."
5. How is my product better than the competition?
How are you going to add additional value to the customer landscape? What does your product do better, faster, cheaper, and more eloquently than others? Personally, I live by the mantra, "Make the best, for the most, for the least." How will you create the highest quality product or service for the largest quantity of customers for the least amount of money? You blend this with a deep strategy of differentiation, and you'll have a winning business.
6. Is there any part of my business that could compromise my family, relationships, or values?
Professional success without personal success isn't success. Your first priority is to your health and relationships. However, all startups require a season of intensity. But a startup that turns a season into seasons can become a dangerous threat to the foundation of your life. Look deep into the future, set appropriate expectations with those around you, and build safe boundaries prior to embarking on this journey.
7. Can I start this business on my own without a partner, loan, or investment?
87% of business partnerships fail within five years. A complex topic I discuss in detail here. Starting a business can be overwhelming. But trust me when I say this, "You can start a business by yourself if you seek out the right education. You don't need a loan; you need to save. Investors seem sexy, but they are dead weight for most businesses."
8. How much money will I need to save prior to launching?
I instruct new entrepreneurs to have a $1,000 emergency fund and 12 months of personal expenses in savings. Quitting your job to launch a business is a delicate balance that requires patience and wisdom. If you jump ship too early, you could drown. If you wait too long, you could crash into the beach. The success of your business is a big deal. If you can build healthy savings and walk the knife-blade of quitting too early or late, you'll strengthen your position and limit the risk of losing everything.
In the end, I ask myself a different question. A scarier question coming from a place of retrospect, "What if I didn't?" What if I just kept writing that English paper in 2004? What if I forced my way through college and found an ordinary job? What a dreadful contrast to the life I live today.
Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will. And if you don't build your business, someone will hire you to build theirs.
If you're looking to start a business, build a side project, start a blog or non-profit let me help you. Our 12-month step-by-step startup curriculum will walk you to the finish line of your dreams. If you would like to learn more, watch the video below.