What they don’t tell you about being an entrepreneur

What they don’t tell you about being an entrepreneur

A wise man once typed, “Too often, content aimed at entrepreneurs is reduced to repeated well-worn catchphrases and habit improvement techniques. Disobedient entrepreneurs are a clever bunch who need clever insight.”

That man is Yoav Anaki, from the Medium blog Yala Bot. We reply with a simple (yet telling) millennial saying: #truth.

Content that is meant to help and inspire entrepreneurs is actually altruistic, unrealistic and idealistic, ignoring the realities of starting a company.

The hard-hitting truth of entrepreneurship is summed up in statistics:

  • More than 50% of small businesses fail in the first four years — Small Business Trends
  • 74% of high-growth internet startups fail due to premature scaling — Startup Genome Report
  • More than half of the companies listed on Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000 — World Economic Forum

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your hand at starting a company (or continue working on one you’ve already started). We just suggest that you avoid the meaningless, rainbow-coloured, unicorns-and-rabbits advice plastered all over social media.

Here’s some real advice and interesting ideas from entrepreneurs and experts who have failed, succeeded and then failed again.


Allen Lau, Dan Jacob and Lily Tse on failure and trusting your gut:

“You are shooting in the dark (you may not know). You almost have to assume that everything you try, almost 30% at least, may not work… and that’s OK.” — Allen Lau, co-founder of Wattpad

“I remember leaving a really cushy corporate job and my mom crying on the phone when I told her that I left this job to start my own business. I really felt that in my gut.” — Dan Jacob, co-founder of TEDxToronto and growth manager of Breather

“My first developer took almost the first 20% of what she developed completely away. Whatever you see now within the app is a do-over. In hindsight, I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with that hire, but I didn’t listen to my gut. The gut-check is essential in the beginning.” — Lily Tse, founder and CEO at Think Dirty

Dan Jacob and Jessica Weisz on growth and customers:

“Growth is counterintuitive. You want to do things that don’t scale to get your first hundred or thousand customers. Because those are the customers that are going to remember you — they’re going to evangelize your product and they’re going to tell all of their friends about you.” – Dan Jacob

“As it turns out, we serve humans. These are people with emotions and fears about any risks that they might be taking when they’re using the product. And you need to tap into that and understand that.” — Jessica Weisz, chief client officer of SoapBox

Bianca Lopes and Lily Tse on the entrepreneurial ego:

“The great thing about entrepreneurs is that most of them have an ego, which allows them to make it through the tough times. But put your ego in a box and throw it out the window if you can.” — Bianca Lopes, co-founder of Ezzy Lynn and owner of BioConnect

“Every entrepreneur should look to help a million people, versus thinking about making the first million dollars. Because if you focus on helping a million people, then you will get more money than you deserve.” — Lily Tse

Balaji Gopalan on product management:

“Customers mature and change very, very quickly. With every opportunity you get, you need to go back to your customers and say: ‘Ok this is what you told me. Let me reframe it and play it back to you. Am I moving in the right direction?’”

“Essentially, product features are just things that exist, but they don’t matter if they don’t change people’s lives. What is the change that you’re making?” — Balaji Gopalan, co-founder and CEO of MedStack

Joe Wilson on the value proposition:

“Think of the value proposition as a hypothesis. You’re hypothesizing that: If I create this fully and if I have access to that market, I will exchange value for money. It needs to be tested before you put a lot of money into growing it. You might be convinced in your head that this is going to be a million-dollar idea, but your head doesn’t write cheques — the market does.” — Joe Wilson, director of business and marketing at Spongelab Interactive

Allen Lau and Bianca Lopes on what you can do right now:

“Check out this short video, The Evolution of an Entrepreneur. An entrepreneur has to transform him- or herself at a certain stage of the company. If you cannot self-learn, you are going to fail at some point.” — Allen Lau

“Go build your vision board. Go try to understand what and why you want to do this. Go lock yourself in a room, put your devices on airplane mode and try to understand why you’re doing this.” — Bianca Lopes

The truth is, all startups are unique, but everyone faces similar startup challenges.

The resources that we offer here at MaRS are not your “well-worn catchphrases” and stereotypical advice for entrepreneurs. We bring you real stories and tips from entrepreneurs and experts who have been through it all — including those quoted above. We also offer plenty of articles, videos, templates and tools through the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit that are free and adaptable for your business. Our online courses, such as Entrepreneurship 101 (E101), cover many topics every entrepreneur needs to learn about, from market sizing to sales.

All of these resources are available to help you, the “disobedient entrepreneur,” overcome the challenges of building a startup in an effective, honest way.