As an entrepreneur, I often get a lot of flak from others for being a dreamer. Its taken a lot of soul searching and sheer force of will to overcome the self-doubt I’ve encumbered from listening to these folks. I think most entrepreneurs can concur with this experience. But another type of self doubt, one that I don’t hear as much talk of, but that can be just as damaging, is the kind that comes from having others question if your dreams are too small.
I’ve taken several courses that introduce entrepreneurship to people. It was during one of these that I found myself listening to a lawyer who was brought in to talk about her experience working in the startup world (think companies like Facebook and Instagram). At the time, my main interests in entrepreneurship had to do with building passive income streams through blogs, real estate, and other small businesses. My pursuits probably had a market cap max of less than $10 million, and that’s being generous. Hell, if I ever got to a million dollars in net worth in my life before retirement age, I would have been overjoyed. As the lawyer discussed various terms regarding valuations, fund raising, and incorporation, a few of us in the class were a bit confused. These others had small businesses and passive income streams like myself, and the terms this lawyer was talking about was getting beyond any of our expectations. One student raised her hand and asked, “What if our business is less than $10 million? What if it won’t reach $50 million?”
I’ve never seen a more deadpan response. The attorney said, “Why would you build a company for less than $50 million?” At the moment, I had never felt more confused about my goals. I’ve never wanted to build a mega company like Google. Sure, everyone can push a little harder, but my dreams were never to be disrupting a whole industry, becoming a CEO, or building a Fortune 500 company. Was I just a piece-of-shit entrepreneur? Because that’s how I was feeling at the moment. My dreams couldn’t even match the standards of these folks in the startup industry.
Fast forward a couple years. I am currently traveling the world, typing on my laptop from Miami, with Central America in my sights next. I still haven’t built the next big app to replace Facebook. I probably never will, and still don’t care to. My new businesses don’t surpass my income when I worked, briefly, in the corporate world. I’ve been able to travel with revenues coming from a combination of investments, small businesses, and just being really frugal. It’s a lifestyle that gives me a lot of time and freedom, rather than a lot of money and impact, although I plan on changing those things over the long term. Through this journey, I’ve learned that there are a lot different paths to entrepreneurship. Of course, you could start a mega-company. But you can also build a real estate empire, write a blog, start a podcast, invent a product, and much, much more. I’ve actually tried a bunch of these things, even the mega startup route. Here’s what I always return to: I have a long term vision for how I picture my life. If what I’m doing doesn’t align with those goals, and I have the option to, then I cut it out. Going down the wrong path now doesn’t serve me in anyway in the future.
If you don’t have a firm grasp on your vision, then little things like the moment I had with the lawyer can knock you off your path. Trust me, it did for me for a bit. You’ll have friends and family tell you your dreams are too big, while others will tell you they’re too small. None of these people are acting on your dreams for you, so take it all with a grain of salt. Only you can figure out what life is right for you, and isn’t that why many of us get into entrepreneurship in the first place? We all have the urge to create for ourselves. By doing this, we’re all ready coloring outside the lines. Don’t let anyone tell you what color to pick.
Byron Chen hosts a podcast over at SuccessVets.com, a resource site he founded for veterans and service members. He interviews amazing people to pass along their lessons learned to help others with their careers and lives after the military. Guests have included CEO’s, authors, entrepreneurs, and other successful veterans covering topics like interviewing skills, salary negotiation, and business. Prior to this, Byron was a Captain in the United States Marine Corps and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.