Three Reasons Not to Become an Entrepreneur

Last Updated Apr 19, 2008 7:53 PM EDT

Three Reasons Not to Become an EntrepreneurMost folks have thought about starting their own business. After all, it's freedom to set your own hours, do what you truly love doing, and answer to no one but the boss -- you.

But it's also true that most people don't venture off on their own, and for good reason. Putting out your own shingle is hard, lonely, expensive work, with a very high chance of failure. Reading the excellent Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs by Rita McGrath on Harvard Business, it struck me that the best piece of advice may be this:

Don't do it!

As anti-American as it may sound, the entrepreneurial life is not for everyone, probably not right for most. If you crave the following, you might want to remain right where you are.

  • Stability. Sure, you could lose your cushy corporate job tomorrow, but for the most part working for The Man is a predictable, structured, pay-check-every-week kind of existence. Starting your own enterprise, by contrast, puts many of your personal financial resources at risk, demands long and unpredictable hours, and creates physical and emotional strain that can harm family life.
  • Success. You already know the 80-20 rule: for every 10 companies started, eight fail. The odds are your new venture will flop. Entrepreneurs certainly don't crave failure, but they know how to deal with it and learn from it.
  • Social interaction. Every office has its own social network, and toiling side-by-side with fun, smart people can be one of the joys of the work experience. Entrepreneurs don't chat with each other -- they hustle. As McGrath puts it, "It can be lonely â€" you're no longer part of a work team. Working from home, which many do, is a whole lot different than working in an office on a schedule."
A Litmus Test for Entrepreneurs A few years back Harvard Business Review ran a piece called A Test for the Fainthearted (excerpted here) that remains relevant today. Author Walter Kuemmerle identified five questions that would-be entrepreneurs should ask themselves:
  • Are you comfortable stretching the rules?
  • Are you prepared to make powerful enemies?
  • Do you have the patience to start small?
  • Are you willing to shift strategies quickly?
  • Are you a closer?
"Being an entrepreneur isn't for everyone, and even those who have the right stuff find the path to success much rougher and, usually, much longer than they had anticipated," Kuemmerle says. "But if you start your journey with a clear sense of your own capabilities and the gaps in them, you'll be much more likely to succeed in your venture."

Do you have what it takes?

(Open for business image by tinou bao, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.