Is being an entrepreneur a nightmare?

By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published

Becoming an entrepreneur is a daydream for millions of people.

After all, starting your own company is an opportunity to become your own boss, chart your own destiny, and maybe make a fortune.

But is the reality always rosy, even if your business flourishes?

Here 10 successful entrepreneurs talk about the downsides of their jobs. It doesn't sound easy.

Evernote chief executive Phil Libin

The boss of note-writing mobile phone app and website Evernote, Mr Libin cautions that being a successful entrepreneur requires rather a lot of commitment.

Image source, Other

He says: "It is amazingly difficult work - you have no life balance, no family time, and you will never work harder in your life. It really can be brutal."

Mr Libin, whose company is based in Silicon Valley, California, also warns that most start-up business do not make their founders rich.

"If your motivation is to make money and have power, then you will be a very unhappy as an entrepreneur," says the 42-year-old.

"But if your motivation is to make the world a better place, you can be a happy entrepreneur, a person who strives to achieve something."

Ieat Foods founder Shazia Saleem

Still just 29, Ms Saleem, of Luton, is already a veteran entrepreneur. Her previous business ventures have included redeveloping a rundown holiday resort in Cambodia, and she is about to launch a UK halal food brand called Ieat Foods.

She says business owners have to guard against loneliness.

"Everyone tells you it's lonely as an entrepreneur - it's a bit of an understatement," she says. "Many times the only person you can turn to for inspiration or comfort is the person staring back at you [often blankly] in the mirror.

"Carry your ego with you and it's a pretty lonesome journey. Ditch it, and you invite [from the right people, of course] support, company and experiences that make the journey much more worthwhile."

Box founder and chief executive Aaron Levie

The chief executive of global cloud storage business Box, Mr Levie says starting your own business involves having to put up with tremendous hardships.

Image source, Reuters

This is something the 28-year-old has first-hand experience of, as after launching Box back in 2005 he spent the first two and a half years of the business sleeping on a mattress at its office in Silicon Valley, California.

And he lived off tins of spaghetti hoops in tomato sauce, and instant noodles.

"Starting up a new company requires an incredible level of commitment and determination over a very long period of time," says Mr Levie, who is now worth an estimated $100m (£65m).

"You pretty much have to clear your calendar for the next 10 years, and be focused on just one thing - your business.

"This leaves very little time for anything else - all you will be doing is working. This can be painful, so if you don't deeply enjoy what you are doing, then it really isn't worth doing it."

Indiegogo co-founder Danae Ringelmann

As one of the bosses of San Francisco-based crowd-funding website Indiegogo, Ms Ringelmann helps start-up businesses around the world try to raise funds from members of the public.

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She cautions that entrepreneurs have to be able to cope with making mistakes.

"Entrepreneurship requires you to be good at a lot of different things, very quickly," says the 35-year-old. "You are thus much more prone to mistakes as you don't have time to learn gradually.

"As an entrepreneur you have to not only be willing to live with uncertainty and the fallout from mistakes, but you also have to be resilient, learn quickly, let things go and move forward. This later part doesn't always feel good."

SBTV founder Jamal Edwards

Londoner Jamal Edwards is an amateur film-maker turned millionaire. Just 23 years old, he puts his videos up on YouTube, where they attract millions of hits, and he takes a share of the advertising revenue.

Image source, Getty Images

He warns that being the boss of your own company can test your friendships.

"There are downsides to being an entrepreneur," he says. "People begin to look at you as a meal ticket, and a person who is incapable of having personal problems.

"Equally the long hours begin to take [their] toll on your health. I think the saddest part of it is losing friends... because this barrier of success seems to be in place."

Peach Pink co-founder Helen Peachey

A busy mother, Ms Peachey, 41, set up her leather goodscompany in 2012 with her business partner and fellow mother Vanessa Pinkney.

For her, the downside to being an entrepreneur is finding enough time to get everything done.

"Work-life balance was the main reason we chose to become entrepreneurs, but this is also the first thing that is compromised when things get busy," says Ms Peachey.

"It falls on us to ensure that all aspects of the business run smoothly, which entails working at night when the children are in bed, and early starts before they get up. There are never enough hours in the day."

School for Startups founder and chief executive Doug Richard

A former dragon on the BBC's Dragon's Den TV show, in which entrepreneurs and inventors pitch to secure financial backing, Mr Richard now runs business support organisation School for Startups.

Image source, Other

A serial entrepreneur, the 55-year-old also cautions about the long hours.

"You may as well reset your body clock," he says. "The reality is you can't have a nine-to-five attitude when your income is entirely in your own hands."

To best cope with the pressure and be successful, he says that planning is essential.

"You don't start, you plan," he says. "This needs to be a process of figuring out how it will work and proving to the best of your abilities that it can work."

The Muse co-founder and chief executive Kathryn Minshew

New York-based Ms Minshew runs careers advice and jobs website The Muse.

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The 28-year-old, who admits to working 105 hours "on a bad week", says entrepreneurs have to guard against taking any failures personally.

"The company's successes are my successes, but the company's failures are my failures too, and I hurt physically when things go wrong," she says.

"[Being a business owner] is the most rewarding and brutal thing I've ever done in my life."

Tictail chief executive Carl Waldekranz

The 27-year-old Swede is co-founder of Stockholm-based Tictail, an online platform that allows small retailers around the world to set up their own websites.

Image source, Tictail

He is another entrepreneur who warns about the impact on your social life.

"One of the crazy things about being an entrepreneur is that the thing you love the most is also what's driving you crazy sometimes," he says.

"I never know where I need to be next week, that's exciting, but it takes its toll on relationships with friends and family. However you prioritise, you're letting someone down."

Jewellery designer Pippa Small

Ms Small spends half of her time travelling the world, visiting workshops in countries such as Afghanistan, Bolivia and Kenya, or fashion shows in major cities such as New York, Paris and Milan.

She describes her job as "very much a way of life", but says it can be difficult to separate the two parts of her work.

"The element I struggle with is finding a balance between the freedom needed for creativity and the burden of administration," she says.

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