This is the first post in a blog series. You can view the second post “Who is your customer? Here’s how to find out” here.
About 15 years ago, I made the dumbest decision of my life.
And when I say dumb, I mean real dumb. Like sticking- your-tongue-on-a-frozen-telephone-poll dumb.
The decision I made was this: I decided to quit the cushiest job of my life, as director of sales for Sprint, a job that I and everyone else considered a “dream job,” in order to … (wait for it) … start my own company. Like by myself. Like from scratch.
Pretty dumb, right?
I quit a job where I could leave at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday and play a round of golf, to start a job where I regularly worked until 10 p.m., and often much later. I quit a job with benefits. And a corner office. And a Christmas party. To start a job with exactly none of those things.
Oh, and I had a wife, and two young kids, and a house note. Can you guess what happened?
My company failed. Big time. Then I started a second company, and it failed, too. Now, this is typically the point in the story when you hear things like “But then it all turned around for me, and now I’m successful beyond my wildest dreams. Yippie!”
I can’t tell you how many seminars, videos, and happy hours I’ve sat through listening to the glorious tale of how some plucky young entrepreneur set out on their own, suffered through a series of setbacks, and eventually became wildly successful.
I mean, it’s the plot of practically every fairytale. Unfortunately, when you look at the numbers, it really is just that: a fairytale.
Only about 1 in 3 businesses make it to the decade mark. And of those that do, only a teeny tiiiiny percentage ever get filthy rich.
Not to mention all the anxiety, the ups and downs, the legal battles, and the drama both personally and professionally that inevitably come with starting your own company.
As for myself, even though I now run a profitable startup (third time’s the charm), I’m nowhere near that Bezos-level of success that most new business owners fantasize about.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Well Chris. That’s a huge bummer. I mean, why write a book about growing your eCommerce startup if you’re so down on startups?”
Truth is, I’m probably the biggest startup fan-boy you’ll ever meet. Heck, I even created an organization for the sole purpose of celebrating local startups. (It’s called Denver Founders, and it’s great.) Working to improve my startup company and helping others do the same is what I live for. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
But if I’ve learned anything about entrepreneurship it’s that, if you’re going to survive for the long haul, you need more than just dumb courage. You need a “why.”
While the decision to leave my job without any real plan, or any assurance that I would succeed, was admittedly dumb, I’ve learned a lot along the way.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned on my journey is that, if you’re going to survive for the long haul, you can’t just be in it for the money.
You most likely won’t experience a huge Bezos-level payoff. Sure, you’re allowed to want that (we all do), but it can’t be the reason you start your business.
Before you start your business, or even start to think about promoting it, you have to figure out your “why.”And it better be a good one.
So if your reason for starting a business is not to become rich and famous … What is it? Why go through all the stress? Why risk everything?
Although we all different “why’s” for starting our business, they all should have this in common: All good “why’s” should ultimately be about making the world a better place.
It may sound hokey, but it’s true. Whether you realize it or not—unless you’re starting the first company in history where people will actually pay you to make their lives worse—your business is, in some way, about making people’s lives better.
Once you realize that, and find your “why,” you can find fulfillment in knowing that, even without the big yacht and the fame and the private island, you have done something worth doing. At the end of the day, you have done something meaningful.
As the founder and CEO of CleverFunnel, I fight every day so that Ivan can buy fancy cowboy boots, so that Danielle can save up for a house, so that Martinez can star in an industrial band (Necro Corp, check it out). Being able to give my employees the means to go out and live their crazy, amazing lives—that’s my “why.
And that extends to all the clients I work with. I love supporting entrepreneurs and helping them achieve what they set out to do. It’s incredibly gratifying work, and it beats shuffling papers in a corporate office every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Be Too Crazy to Quit
As cushy as my office job was, I would 100 percent rather be doing what I’m doing now: taking risks, adapting to challenges, creating something new in the world, supporting a team of people I care about.
If I’m honest, I couldn’t not do what I do. It’s in my blood. And that’s another thing you should ask yourself before launching your business: Could you be happy doing anything else? And if (and when) you have one shot, or one opportunity, will you capture it? Or just let it slip?
The people who succeed in the world of entrepreneurship, at least all the ones I’ve met, have this in common: They’re too crazy to quit.
Entrepreneurs start a company because they can’t not start that company. They start a company because it’s eating them up inside. They start a company because it’s so deeply ingrained in their psyche that this idea has to exist in the world. That’s what gets them through the failed ventures and the long nights and the incredible stress.
Once you have your “why,” and you’ve determined that you are, in fact, too crazy to quit, it’s time to determine your “who.”
Tune in next week for the next installation in this series about launching an eCommerce business!
Note from the Author
Starting an eCommerce business is like building a rocket in your garage and expecting it to take you to the moon—it might not work, and even if it does, there’s a good chance you’ll get hurt along the way.
The good news is you’re not the first person crazy enough to try this. There are many others (myself included) who have tried, failed, and tried again. By learning from our many (many) mistakes, you can launch an eCommerce business that makes it safely to orbit and beyond.
In this blog series, you’ll get a step-by-step guide to creating and launching your eCommerce business years 1–3. We go over how to create a functional brand, set up your website, and develop an advertising strategy that scales with you. We’ll go through the various pros and cons, so that you can feel empowered to make the best decisions for your business.
My name is Chris Franks, and I’m the founder and CEO of CleverFunnel, a digital marketing agency that focuses on using straightforward, data-driven strategies to drive real results for our clients.
I’m also an avid lover of indie music, fly fishing, baseball, and sunscreen (although that’s more of a genetic necessity). I wrote this with the hope that my story could help other young entrepreneurs achieve their goals, without losing their savings (or their sanity) in the process. If any bit of this helps you, it’ll have been worth it.