Many entrepreneurs that I know started from nothing, without necessarily having completed business studies or entrepreneurship training. They invested time and money in their project, and some ended up having success, while others did not. Setting up a business is not easy, but despite everything, running your own business is increasingly appealing, despite entrepreneur myths and facts that could discourage many. Indeed, in recent years, we have seen an increasing number of startups pop up.
However, the desire to become an entrepreneur is not yet well understood by the majority of people. This can be explained in particular by the fear of failure, which is deeply rooted in our society, but also by the fear of stepping outside the box, of being different. One wonders how we came to develop these fears. Are such fears justified? Is it that common for businesses to go bankrupt? And how can we minimize this risk, while ensuring that our business idea will work?
All these questions I attempted to answer in my book, Tout le monde n’a pas eu la chance de rater ses études (‘Not Everyone Is Lucky Enough to Fail Out of School’), but also in this article, the main points of which are inspired by this interview with BFM TV, in which I recently participated:
Recognize the failings of the education system
The French education system relies on foundations that were laid during the 19th century. The problem is that today, in the 21st century, certain skills and habits are becoming increasingly important, whereas they were not necessarily so 100 or 150 years ago when the current school system was established.
Among the most appalling failures of the system is the fact that one can spend twenty years of their life in school without ever even learning how to learn. Yet this skill is fundamental when living in a world like ours. In fact, it is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Therefore, knowing how to adapt to it is essential. For that purpose, the most important thing is to constantly educate yourself and learn new skills. School can no longer claim to teach us crystallized knowledge that is sufficient for the rest of our life.
To compensate for this, it is quite possible to “hack” your education. Indeed, if you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, you have to develop your autonomy, flexibility, adaptability, and creativity. Skills that are, again, not taught in school.
Learning to learn
The big problem with the current school system is that it does not take into account the latest discoveries in neuroscience with regard to learning. Here is an example that illustrates this perfectly. In 1986, an article was written by fifty American scientists. Its title was: Why isn’t spaced repetition used in education? Yet, this learning method is scientifically proven to be the most effective at memorizing things for the long term. Unfortunately, 30 years later, we notice that spaced repetition is still not used at school …
Fortunately, there are apps that provide this learning methodology. These only cost a few euros, and some are even free. Nowadays, you can therefore easily learn new things with this much more efficient method than the analog system used in school.
Here’s another very simple tip, also proven by science: to learn a text, you get better results reading it the first time, letting it sit for two minutes, and writing down everything you spontaneously remember. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself 😉. You will see that it is a much more efficient way to learn than to read that same old text several times in a row.
If you are interested in learning methods and want to hack your education as well, I also go into this topic in more depth in my book Tout le monde n’a pas eu la chance de rater ses études (‘Not Everyone is Lucky Enough to Flunk School’).
Never be ashamed of failure
In the education system, as in society, failure is seen as shameful. At school, students are assessed on a standard grading system, which does not take into account individual strengths and weaknesses, and unfortunately, when one fails an exam, they are reprimanded. We are therefore taught that we must follow the path laid out for us, and that if we cannot conform to it, we do not deserve the consideration of others.
For most people, a successful life amounts to having a good degree, getting a permanent contract, climbing the corporate ladder to become an executive, for example, and earning a good salary. This general conception that we have of success is not the least surprising since that’s how we are conditioned, from kindergarten until finishing school. Under these conditions, it is difficult to view success from another perspective. Consequently, the person who decides to step outside the box, to create a business, for example, is sometimes misunderstood. Indeed, becoming an entrepreneur somewhere means taking risks, and the fear of failure prevents the vast majority of the world from going into entrepreneurship.
Frédéric Mazzela, the founder of Blablacar, says his parents, who were teachers, wondered for weeks about what they had done wrong during their son’s upbringing when he told them he wanted to start his own business. They could not understand how such a brilliant and accomplished student did not wish to pursue a cushy career as a salaried employee.
Build your own dream
For me, being an employee is building someone else’s dream. That being said, this is obviously not necessarily a bad thing. You can very well be hired by a company whose dream you share, which makes you want to help build it. For example, if I got hired by Elon Musk to help him achieve his dream of colonizing Mars, chances are that it would inspire and motivate me on a daily basis.
However, when we take a concrete look at the figures, there are only 9% of French people who are passionate about their work, opposed to 26% who hate their job. That’s quite shameful! In my opinion, this is one of the biggest failures of modern society.
If you are one of those people who are not happy in their professional activity, it might be time to ask yourself what you dream of doing 😉
Two myths about entrepreneurship
The risk of going bankrupt
One of the reasons people dare not get into entrepreneurship is because they are afraid of losing their job security. However, when you look at it, being an employee does not guarantee you this security. How many companies have had to go out of business by laying off all their employees in the process?
It is true that when you start a business, there is always a risk associated with bankruptcy. In this regard, INSEE reports indicate that after five years, one in two entrepreneurs will have gone out of business. However, even if this statistic is accurate, the real question one should ask is: why are these companies closing down? When we concretely analyze the causes of these business closures, we realize that, for the most part, it is due to non-economic reasons. The cause may be the death of the CEO, the sale of the business, or quite simply, retirement.
So, when we really take a close look at bankruptcies, we realize that it only concerns 15% of companies. Furthermore, of this percentage, there are only two-thirds that generate a debt that is on average around 11,000 euros. Indeed, a debt of this magnitude is not pleasant to pay off; however, it is not insurmountable either.
So yes, failure happens, but it is not that common. And even when it does happen, it is usually not that significant.
Taking foolhardy risks
However, that does not mean that you have to go into kamikaze mode. Another great myth of entrepreneurship is thinking that those who have succeeded rushed headlong into their project without thinking about it. The entrepreneur does take risks, but they are measured risks. He will therefore do everything to succeed and do what is necessary so that in the event of failure, he doesn’t take too big of a hit. As such, he will generally have come up with a plan B, a plan C, or even a plan D, in case things do not go as intended. And most of the time, they don’t go as intended 😉
Test out your idea
When you have a business idea, you cannot be sure from the start that it will be good. If that was the case, everyone would be a millionaire! However, you can reduce your uncertainty about this idea thanks to a very simple method. This methodology, which comes from Silicon Valley, is called Lean Startup. I myself applied it without knowing it, years before it was invented.
As an aside, I left school at 18, and I created my first company at 19. What gave me the confidence to do it was that I had hands-on experience testing out my idea. I wanted to start a business in the IT field because I noticed that I had some skills in this area. Indeed, I was able to regularly troubleshoot problems that people had with their computers. So, I placed a classified ad in a local newspaper. It was in 1999. At the time, I invested 60 francs in this ad, and I made 5,000 francs in sales in one month. Testing your idea in the simplest way possible, that’s Lean Startup.
So, if you want to become an entrepreneur, the question you must ask yourself is: how can I test my idea/concept in a simple but real-life situation as quickly as possible, alongside my job or my studies as in a side hustle?
Be a passionate entrepreneur
The last year I was at school, I got called in by the principal. He then explained to me that I was demotivated insomuch that I demotivated the teachers themselves, and that for this reason, he had decided not to invite me to re-register the following year. Besides that, I had tested my idea hands-on, and as I saw that there was potential, I said to myself that it was the opportunity to create my company. What’s amazing is that if you had seen me in class at the time, you wouldn’t have bet a dime on my future. I wouldn’t have done so myself. However, a few months later, I was involved in my business creation project, and suddenly, I was more motivated than ever. I had the fire in my belly! What made the difference between the Olivier slumped over his desk and the one who was unstoppable was simply that I had found a project that fascinated me and challenged me. I therefore strongly advise you, if you want to become an entrepreneur, to find a business idea that you are passionate about.
Knowing who to surround yourself with
Often, the entrepreneur feels alone, including those around him and his family. Indeed, if his relatives are not themselves involved in entrepreneurship, he cannot find in them the understanding and support he needs. Not to mention that in his company he is in a leadership position that is unique – unless, of course, he has partners. So, most of the time, one can break the isolation by joining entrepreneur organizations or meeting peers. And this is very important if you want to be able to share your joys and sorrows – in short, your reality as an entrepreneur – while being understood. This is actually what I did, and once again, this is what I recommend you do. Indeed, breaking the isolation will help you be in the right “mindset” for success.
You will understand that there are many myths related to entrepreneurship. So, yes, clearly, becoming an entrepreneur is not easy, and to be successful in this field, you need a lot of patience and motivation. On the other hand, developing skills and continuously learning can really make the difference between a successful entrepreneur and an unsuccessful entrepreneur. However, if you are aware of all of this and act in the right way, I assure you that you will significantly increase your chances of getting good results.
If you’ve read this article to the end, it’s probably because you too want to become an entrepreneur. If so, have you already found your business idea? How are you going to test it? Give me your answers in the comments, I’m curious to know;)