Serial Entrepreneurialism is Not Easy

Organising your home office workspace

Here’s a quick exercise (actually it’s quite time consuming) that is guaranteed to turn you from a bed-jumping, babbling, raving optimist into a weeping manic depressive in as little as a single weekend. Collect up the following:

  • A stack of self-help/productivity/entrepreneurial type books.  The more outlandish the claims they make, the better.  More or less any will do, but  ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferris is the obligatory piece-de-resistance.
  • Hard liquor of choice.
  • Laptop with internet Access.

Start on Friday after a hard working week by getting good and drunk and partying until it suits you.  Take Saturday to sleep it off and then go for a nice long walk and take a refreshing shower.  This should ensure the appropriate zen-like, the-world-is-all-good state required for the next phase.  After dinner on Saturday, knock back a good few espressos, put on ‘Eye of Tiger’ and start reading. Stay up all night until you’re 100 pages from the end of ‘The 4 Hour Workweek’ and so high you can barely control the pencil you’re using to plan tomorrow’s trip to the Cayman Islands.  Wake your partner/neighbours with jubilant screams proclaiming you have found the answer to all your life’s problems.   So far, so good.  Now sleep.

On Sunday morning, realise that the Caymans will have to wait until Monday and grab that pencil and paper again. Start work on planning how you’re going to make shit loads of money doing absolutely nothing, or at most, half an hour every other Thursday in-between luxury transatlantic voyages. You could go for an online business, probably a blog.  Blogs are like the keys to the mint right?  Hell, you’re a crap writer and don’t have anything to say anyway, but with the right marketing and a content-poor ebook you’ll be on your way to the big time in no time.  Or maybe you could start a product-shipping business specifically designed to afford you this lifestyle.  This should be easy, brainstorm a few ideas, test a few models, manufacture a product, set up a website, outsource all the work to India – you know the drill.  Six figures in six minutes a day.

After lunch on Sunday, come back and read the rest of this article.

I’m really sorry to have to break this to you, but it’s not going to happen.  Of course, I mean that in a ‘you’re not going to win the lottery’ way; so technically, it could happen, but really, it won’t.

For a start, you’re not going to make real money and work an hour a day blogging.  Don’t just take my word for it, read what Darren and Penelope, two people with vastly more experience and wisdom than me, have to say on the issue.  Believe me now?  OK – let’s procede to the ‘why’, which takes less than 5 seconds.  Economists have a concept called ‘barriers to entry’ which explains why you can’t make money doing something anyone can do.  Blogging has zero barriers to entry.  Almost anyone can do it and it gets easier and cheaper every day with free, idiot-proof software being developed faster than a 50MB broadband connection.  That’s right, in 5 to 10 short years, blogging has gone from cash-cow to dead-in-the-water (as a form of quick and easy income).  If you want to make a living from blogging now, you’ll have to develop serious expertise in online marketing and write empty, search engine and advertising driven, garbage for about 20 hours a day.  Thats because 30 million people are trying to do the same thing and 29 million of them are willing to work 19 hours a day.

A Ferris-style muse won’t work either, or at least not for any protracted period of time.  Firstly, really good products, the type that can support an 8x markup are like goldust, and you probably can’t think of one.  Most retailers work on 2-3x.  If you think you can ‘feign’ a luxury product and charge 4 times what competitors are asking for just by printing off a glossy label and adding ‘sex’ to the name of the product – think again.  Noone has any money any more and that’s probably going to be the case for a good while.  Plus, consumers get savvier by the minute and with a quick ‘Is x the same as y in Google?’ anyone can shatter your myth in seconds.  Why is all this happening to you?  Barriers to entry.  What if I can find a product that works, then I’ll look stupid, won’t I?  Maybe for a while, but if you uncover something that good, it won’t be long until zillions of would-be-new-rich come after you – and they’ll get you as well.  Why? Barriers to entry.  Let me say it again, just in case you haven’t got the idea.  Barriers to entry.  Like it or not, resources are scarce and there is heavy competition for them.  If something is easy, requires little effort and makes enough profit to justify outsourcing the labour that goes into producing, marketing and distributing it, there will be competition, and lots.  If not now, then later.

The upshot of an ‘easy’ business is that you’ll spend so much time ‘defending’ it, that you’ll be putting in 15 hour days before you can say ‘VIP lounge at Heathrow’.  Aggressive marketing and competition monitoring, patent filing and enforcement, legal battles, attempted differentation of your product through advertising – whatever your defense is, it’s likely to cost enough that at some point, your ‘muse’ just doesn’t produce anymore.  At that point maybe you drop it and move onto the next opportunity.  If you’re smart and quick enough in the water, perhaps you can snake between profitable opportunities, jumping ship before saturation point.  There’s a word for that person – ‘serial entrepreneur’.  Go and find one of them and ask them if they’ve managed to set up any of their businesses to the point where they can stand back and let them run more or less autonomously in less than three years, or two years, or even one year.  Thought not.  Serial entrepreneurialism is not easy.  Why?  High barriers to entry (capital, intelligence, diligence, experience, knowledge, risk).

In the end it all comes down to this.  There are easy activities which will earn you little money (low barriers to entry, e.g., blogging) and there are hard activities that will earn you (lots) more (high barriers to entry, business set up).  If a low barrier to entry, high paying opportunity exists, it s a temporary imbalance in the system, a quick defiance of the laws of economics.  Of course, you can make a worklife out of chasing these opportunities, but fighting the laws of economics takes more than 4-hours a week, so best come prepared.

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Comments

  1. Andrew Hales says:

    I love your blog. Nice job. :)
    “Fail Harder” – Mark Zuckerberg

  2. Justin Mazza says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    This is a really sobering post for anyone who thinks that earning income online is easy. Like anything, it takes time, effort, persistence and consistency.

    take care…

  3. Baker says:

    Yes, good points here. It takes time and a lot of trial and error for success in this field. If one chooses to preserver, and it is a choice.. they may reap the rewards from the trial and error. Nice post!

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