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After graduating from college, I woke up at six in the morning with a question: Should I go all-in and focus solely on entrepreneurship – the consequences are damned? Or are you looking for a full time job that gave me a sense of stability (and allowed me to earn rent).
Let me rewind a little. Back in 1999, when I was still studying computer science, I had my first idea for a software product, a free, open source membership program for a student website. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when this turned out to be an unexpected success.
After getting positive feedback from users, I decided to release a paid version that soon became lucrative. Just like that, I was a nascent entrepreneur.
Related: 8 Things You Need To Know Before Starting A Business
Friends insisted that when I graduate I follow my dream and step in with both feet (a tempting choice for a twenty year old).
But after all this back and forth, I decided against the most seductive choice and instead listened to my stomach.
Overnight success stories are overrated
This is not the story you probably expected. In the tech industry, you've probably read about fearless dreamers who started their startups against the odds: those who chose to build businesses from scratch instead of pursuing the security of a nine- to five-year job.
I understand the appeal of these stories. Overnight success is not impossible. However, this narrative can be misleading if people think they should start a business before they're ready.
I am quite a risk averse person. That said, I think moderation is king when it comes to most things. So what did I do all those years ago? (It's not as exciting as all of the founders who got straight to the top of TechCrunch after graduating.)
I found a full-time job as a programmer for a New York media company.
Related: How To Overcome Your Starting A Business Fear
But here's the thing: I haven't given up on my dream. Instead, I used my day job to fuel my passion and learned valuable lessons about business and managing teams. Five years later, I felt more prepared and confident to quit my job and start my own company, JotForm.
Of course, during this time I had the privilege of even finding a job.
Because of the current crisis, many of us are re-examining different aspects of our lives.
You may be wondering whether to turn your skills into a business or you are among the tens of millions of Americans who lost their jobs and were forced to make that decision due to the coronavirus recession.
Although new opportunities are always exciting, regardless of your situation – above all, I want to advocate a sound approach.
Some real entrepreneurship conversations
In her fascinating article for Harvard Business Review, author Emily Heyward points out that there are a few things to consider before you take that blind leap with your business idea.
"As a founder who works with many other founders, I've seen firsthand what leads to success and what can go wrong," writes Heyward. "It's also never been so competitive. The barriers to entry to starting a new business are decreasing as technology becomes more accessible and user-friendly."
Related: Starting a business is not what you think. Here's what to expect.
This is in no way intended to prevent you from trying. While Heyward describes the excitement of starting a new business, she also offers some guiding principles that aspiring entrepreneurs should take to heart.
"Whichever way you get your idea, you should feel like you have no choice but to start this particular company at this point," she says. In other words, having a real connection with your idea is the key to success.
I can not say more. As the CEO of JotForm, I'd love to share the expert-supported tips and lessons I've learned over the years as I've grown my business to over seven million users.
Surround yourself with trusted mentors and colleagues
Unlike other entrepreneurs, I ultimately decided against a co-founder with whom I could build my business. However, this doesn't mean I haven't relied on incredibly smart people to help me with this.
Before going headlong into your idea, make sure you surround yourself with the right people like mentors and colleagues who are a few steps ahead of where you want to be.
Sheila Eugenio writes for Entrepreneur, arguing that having a mentor to keep our heads up can help us in difficult times: "The valuable connections, timely advice, the occasional review – along with the spiritual and moral guidance that you provide Get through a mentor – you will literally skip to success. "
Value on value compared to competition
JotForm is bootstrap and we've never taken a dime off outside investments. That means we're not necessarily the "cool kids" in the startup world.
Here's my point: there will always be competitors more popular than you. If you go to the TechCrunch homepage or play the comparison game, you will get stuck.
So what is moving the needle forward?
Focus on creating value for your customers rather than chasing trends. As Heyward puts it, "It's not about who is first, it's about who does it best, and the best these days is the business that offers the most value to the consumer."
Keep asking yourself: How can I make the best possible product? How can I further improve my services?
Conclusion: We reached over seven million users because we preferred to listen rather than compare.
Do it with passion or not at all
While there is no way of knowing how long this recession will last, taking your role as a founder into account from the start goes a long way in ensuring where your business ends.
“People care a lot about who is behind the companies they buy from,” Heyward notes. "It's hard to feel a personal connection with a nameless, faceless company, and it's far more rewarding to support brands built by individuals with compelling histories."
Whatever you do, don't be generic. Be ready to communicate with your consumers, share your purpose with them and what drives your efforts. Developing an authentic voice and relationship with the people who buy your products not only helps you get down to earth but also makes your work more meaningful.
Perhaps Heyward put it best: "Realize that the very long, exciting, terrifying, arduous, but so rewarding journey only begins before you when you are fully committed to your vision and have taken control of your outcome."