Last week at work, I was having one of those casual conversations you have with a colleague who is also a friend. We were talking about golf accessories and I showed her a prototype for a product I created a few years ago. Her response caught me off guard: “Does your husband just love that you’re an entrepreneur?”
Entrepreneur? Am I an entrepreneur? Even though I’ve spent the last two years outside of corporate America mentoring entrepreneurs, joining a startup last year and prototyping a new business concept over the last six months, I guess I haven’t really accepted that I’m an entrepreneur. You know why?
Because it was a struggle to be thought of as one.
I was introduced to the Cleveland startup world through a mentoring program at a large, venture development organization, where I advised (mostly) young, first-time entrepreneurs on their marketing and product strategies. I’d spent 20 years working for and alongside large companies with big budgets so I was intrigued by this world, but also nervous for these talented folks who were putting it all on the line to launch their idea. I saw the panic in their face when they knew they had run out of funding or the disappointment when the big deal they were expecting fell apart. I learned that as exciting as it was to be an entrepreneur, it was also terribly scary.
When I walked out of my corporate job three years ago (running a digital division for a $1.5 billion company), I decided it was time for me to take a risk and use my experience to make an impact helping entrepreneurs. These were my heroes – they were the daredevils and impassioned drivers who would create our future markets and products. I was determined to help push them over a hump or cross the finish line. And I enjoyed it. Then a funny thing happened – I caught the bug! And I started applying for some jobs in early-stage startups.
And the response I received from almost all of them was ‘You’ve never done this before. You’re not an entrepreneur!”
I was a bit crushed but kept at it, and I finally joined a business that I was passionate about and in which I thought I could make an impact. Working for equity. In an office. Alone.
It was exciting and exhilarating and I’d never been so scared in my life. I was responsible for everything—the sales pitch, the biz dev calls, the project plan, hiring and managing a designer and developer, developing AND executing the marketing plan, negotiating contracts, understanding patents, and reporting back to investors. I completed my project on-time, on-budget, launched a beta and got the valuable feedback we needed to figure out where to go next.
There were so many ups and downs in such a short period of time, but I accomplished everything I’d hoped to accomplish and gained invaluable experience that I never would have gotten at my old corporate job. I succeeded!
But when my friend and colleague called me an “entrepreneur” – I was shocked and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
Why? The only reason I can think of is that the fear of failure is still with me. Oddly enough, it’s what still drives me, as well. But if I go all in and admit that I am an entrepreneur – do I also have to admit how terrifying it is? How lonely it can be? It’s much easier to say that I work for an amazing venture development organization who helps startups get off the ground. It’s solid. It’s admirable.
But sooner or later, if I truly want to be a successful entrepreneur – I’m going to have to start calling myself one and owning it. If I don’t believe in me and my ideas – how can I expect others to support and invest in me?
So, hi everyone – my name is Sally. I am an entrepreneur.
Just don’t tell anyone!