The Entrepreneurial Path

Sometimes the best career to be in is the one you have defined yourself through starting your own business. This however is probably one of the scariest things you can do in life, especially when you’ve never done it before or have any previous experience to fall back on. I think secretly everyone fancies having their own independence this way and the luxury of not having to rely on anyone else and reap the benefits of their own work.

I work as a probation worker in my day job but had always fancied my hand at trying something of my own making and it took some unexpected twists and turns in life to help me find out what this would be.

The first thing I would say for anyone wanting to start their own venture is you need to pick a niche or market that you excel in above most other people. Find a quality about yourself that you know you’re an expert in and passionate about rather than where you think the most money is going to be.

Brainstorm your passions and interests

Sit down and start brainstorming on a piece of paper all the possible things in your life that you’re good at, know a lot about and feel strongly for. At this point it doesn’t matter whether you think it’s crazy or not, the idea is to get every aspect of what interests you on to a piece of paper.

For me I happen to be really good at psychology both from my day job, which plays a key part of interventions in the justice sector, but also through having successfully self-taught the subject achieving one of the highest grades in the country at A level. After numerous failed attempts in other areas I wasn’t passionate about, I decided to try my hand in creating Loopa revision which helps other students learn and revise for their A levels. This was something I was passionate about and knew a lot about so fits in with this type of thinking.

Failure is part of the process

I would love to say success finds you right away but it doesn’t and failure is something you have to get used to when you try and define your own career as an entrepreneur. This is another reason to have a day job too as it helps you not only finance further attempts but also provides a good safety net as you spread your bets allowing you to continue to try until you succeed.

The key thing I have learnt about failure when starting your own business is when you gamble on it (and you are gambling in essence) you should never bet more than you are prepared to lose. Others may disagree believing if you bet big, you win big which although true, places an enormous amount of risk on you that may prevent you from being able to try again should you fail. If you bet everything and the kitchen sink on making a success of your business and then if it fails, you lose everything and the kitchen sink.

Digging yourself out of such a financial burden then can take years or even lifetimes which is why I’m a strong believer in betting small. Plus, what is the rush or need to go all in?

I failed on 3 different attempts prior and each failure taught me a little more about what wouldn’t work. It’s important to be able to self-reflect and ask yourself why you failed, what was missing and then what you can do better next time.

Thomas Edison’s attitude to inventing the light-bulb explains this perfectly when he said “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10’000 ways that don’t work”.

Start small but dream big

If you start really small the benefits are you can see whether there is a market before committing fully as well as keep your costs down. For myself and Loopa I realised when studying the subject that resources were really expensive and unaffordable for most students so I started to write my own in-depth revision packs to share freely at no cost initially, which was virtually unheard of at the time.

As demand grows and you begin to penetrate into the market slowly, you can then focus on monetisation and growth. It’s important to ask yourself questions to help you do this such as:

  • What’s working well?
  • What needs improvement?
  • Where are we losing most of our customers? How can we capture them better?
  • How can we diversify into other markets?

Create Your Own Market

I’ve learnt sometimes the best markets are the ones you create and define yourself too. Apple is a great example of a company that innovates like this with their app store eco-system being a brilliant example. Prior to the IPhone, there was no such market for downloadable applications for phones which is almost impossible to believe (but true). Now however it’s a billion-dollar industry. They did this again with the IPad which normalised the use of tablet computers when the norm was laptops. Apple created demand for products where there was none prior and this is something I’ve taken away from my experience too.

Wayne Gretzky (a great hockey player) defines this type of thinking as he said “I go to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been”. Steve Jobs would later go on to popularise this mentality quoting Gretzky when explaining how Apple created their products.

In essence this is how you should think if you want to define your own career as an entrepreneur; focus on problems people have that you think you can solve better than anyone else. Once you break into one market, no matter how small or even non-existent previously, this makes it so much easier to pivot into others leveraging your established position.

About the author

Saj Devshi is a crime fighter by day and entrepreneur by night. You can catch him on twitter @sajdevshi