Entrepreneurs are often innovative people who are willing to take a risk and tackle problems, but always strive to remain at the forefront of innovation in order to remain one step ahead of their competitors.
Small business owners and startup founders who are always evolving tend to garner more ideas, attract more customers, set new goals and boost employee morale. Remaining inventive can be challenging, but for many entrepreneurs, it is stimulating and worthwhile.
Opting to be an entrepreneur is not always a natural choice since this decision demands dealing with continual risk, headaches, uncertainty and navigating often volatile unexpected economic conditions.
Among the tens of thousands of startups created each year in the U.S., the burgeoning companies that transition into successful enterprises are few and far between.
Although the failure rate remains extremely high, entrepreneurs continue to seek innovative solutions to existing problems, helping to build a new workforce and increase productivity across various industries.
The pitfalls of starting a new business are numerous, as founders often find themselves devoting too much time chasing funding or customers while others expand too quickly and wind up having to lay off a significant portion of their team to remain in the black.
One-quarter of Americans have thought about becoming business owners, but opted out of the prospect, according to a Gallup poll. This is not surprising since the number of startups which have failed or shut down since 2008 outnumber those which are being created.
The barriers to entrepreneurship are numerous, resulting in 50% of new companies which cease operating during the first five years. A lack of available early stage funding, especially for minority and female entrepreneurs, job security and coaching also present hurdles, according to Gallup.
The trade-off for founders is often gratifying as they learn from their mistakes and develop new strategies. Here is how seven founders knew that choosing to be an entrepreneur was the right fit for their career.
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A former civil litigator, Thomas Nguyen, knew a legal career was not the right fit for him and became a partner and co-founder of Peli Peli, a Houston-based South African restaurant group.
"I dreaded going to work and counted down the minutes to leave," he said. "If you are counting down the minutes to leave your job every day, you really shouldn't be there."
Being able to control his own destiny was paramount to Nguyen who found it difficult to accept that all of his hard work benefited the company he worked for more than him. His father's experience with losing his job after working at the same company for over two decades left an indelible impression on him.
"When I was a senior in high school, my father was laid off after busting his ass for 25 years," he said. "How do you just cast away someone who gave so much of their life to you?"
Although a portion of the initial appeal of becoming an attorney is that employees tend to be valued more as they increased their experience and tenure, Nguyen found it harder to reconcile having to work over 80 hours a every week for "something that you don't own and doing something you really don't care about."
Deciding this new career path was not difficult since it allows him to have "as much of my destiny in my own hands," he said.
Nguyen's success now is not based on the number of hours he is working, but depends on his actions and employees.
"Every effort put into the business is meaningful because it's going into something you own and because you are doing something you are passionate about," he said.
The stress which occurs from being an entrepreneur has tradeoffs he appreciates immensely.
"I also have a sense of freedom about life because I can work whenever I need to, wherever I need to," Nguyen said. "I don't ever have to clock in or really report to anyone except my employees and customers."
When there is a lack of the fear of failing and an openness to risk, choosing to be an entrepreneur is the right move, said Julian Kurland, co-founder of BillFixers, a Nashville-based company that negotiates monthly bills for consumers. Another important personality characteristic for an entrepreneur is having a healthy problem with authority.
"Everyone says it, but being an entrepreneur is risky," he said. "You'll put an unbelievable amount of your own time, energy and money into your business and nothing you do will guarantee success. You need to be able to look at the odds stacked against you and still be willing to bet heavily on yourself."
Entrepreneurship is about making your own path, not listening to where other people tell you to go, Kurland said.
"That means many entrepreneurs also have a problem with authority," he said. "My brother and I co-founded BillFixers to help people fight back against the 'authorities' in the telecom industry, large corporations that were taking advantage of consumers. If you have the entrepreneurial mindset it means if you don't like how things are, you'll find your own, better way."
Leaving an office job with a steady paycheck makes many employees nervous, but entrepreneurs tend to thrive on the risk and potential to create their own challenges.
Andrew Lin, a Houston real estate agent with Nan Properties, an affiliate of Christie's International Real Estate, knew even as a young child that he would eventually become an entrepreneur.
"Entrepreneurship is ingrained in my DNA since my father ran his own medical practices and my grandfather ran his own retail operations," he said. "I wasn't sure exactly what field it would be in, but after being exposed to multiple industries over the years as an investment analyst, I found real estate to be the perfect fit."
Even when he was studying in college or working as an analyst, Lin found that completing tasks he did not have a vested interest in was challenging.
"It was really hard to get excited running analyses that I knew wouldn't yield results," he said.
Choosing the right career to fit your personality should be a priority.
"Being independent in real estate allows me to call the shots," Lin said. "I feel like this business fits my personality because the input is closely correlated with the output and the harder I work, the better the results. I wanted to truly test myself. I feel like I have become a stronger person and more importantly, I feel like I am now in better control of my own destiny."
Even while Youngro Lee worked as a private equity lawyer for eight years and reaped the rewards from his substantive work and healthy compensation package, he knew it was not the right career for him.
He was bothered by the fact that his projects were derived from his clients and he sought to create his own future.
After delving into the changes in U.S. securities laws, Lee believed that he could make an impact on the financial system and how individuals can invest in entrepreneurs. As the co-founder of Nextseed, a Houston-based investment crowdfunding platform for small businesses, Lee believes he has found a new sense of purpose in his work.
"I felt that if I didn't at least attempt to build my business, I would regret it for the rest of my life, so I resigned from my job and started NextSeed," he said. "From my day-to-day perspective, the physical work as an entrepreneur is even more grinding and stressful than a corporate job with far more uncertainty and risk. The difference for me is that I now truly believe in the business my team and I are trying to build."
Abdi Shayesteh launched his first startup when he was 17 and worked as an attorney for 15 years, ranging from a share of "stuffy" corporate jobs, including working at MUFG, a financial institution, a global law firm at King & Spalding and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Even though he accepted those corporate positions to round-out his experiences, in the back of his mind, he didn't feel comfortable.
"Deep down inside, however, I always felt out of place in those settings," he said. "I felt like a closet-case entrepreneur stuck in a suit. When I turned 40 three years ago, I left my cushy $600,000 per year corporate job and vowed to build businesses for the rest of my life."
Now Shayesteh is working at his fourth startup since high school and is the founder and CEO of Alta Claro, a New York City-based experiential learning platform that matches lawyers with legal experts. The mentality of an entrepreneur is simple, he says. You do what needs to get done for the company and you treat the company as if you are the owner.
Once you are on the path of following a strategy of always thinking of how to do things better, faster and bigger even though no one at the company wants to change the status quo, it is likely the time to be an entrepreneur.
"In every corporate setting, I have never feared that they would fire me," Shayesteh said. "I did too much for them to fire me. I felt that they needed me more than I needed them. But, I always fantasized they would fire me so I could start those ideas I had. In the end, they never would fire me. So, I had to fire myself. Best decision I have ever made."
Entrepreneurs yearn for the day their boss fires them with a nice severance, "so that you can finally start all those crazy ideas that have been brewing up inside you," he said.
When Kim Nguyen, founder of Unique Jewels in Houston, started her business in 1990, very few women were jewelry designers. Most owners in the business inherited theirs from the previous generation. Starting a new business was extremely risky, but one that she was willing to take on.
"Being a female business owner today takes a strong woman," she said. "we must be more focused and driven than men. There is no give for us to be soft with our practices."
Women must strive to surpass all expectations, said Nguyen.
Being a entrepreneur has allowed her to follow her passion while having the daily freedom to be creative and control her finances.
When she first started the business, she didn't have a lot of savings, but was able to open the store with the help of friends and relatives who gave them "family loans" to acquire inventory.
"My biggest motivation is a mind set of survival and that failure is not an option," said Nguyen.
While the business hit some road blocks over the past two decades, the business prospered. In 2012, she was able to expand the current location by nearly 2.5 times of the original space.
"We continue to see our business grow every year even with the ups and downs of our local economy," she said.
Some of their customers are extremely loyal and devoted and have shopped for jewelry for various family members and friends for three generations.
"I love what I do and plan to create jewelry until the day my hands are stiff and my eyes are blurry," said Nguyen. "I might retire then."
Every corporate position Kim Bond Evans has accepted has always been as a disruptor. Whether she was building a new group, department, division or fixing a group, department or division, she fell into these roles easily.
"These types of projects require a temperament that is comfortable with discomfort, ambiguity and having the ability to re-fuel in mid-air," she said. "In most cases not all, disruptors have an expiration date within corporations. It's analogous to living with your parents: at some point it becomes crystal clear it's time for you to go and start your own company."
When she was working at BMC Software in 1999, she knew it was time for a change again.
"Once I accepted the moment had arrived, I looked around my spacious well appointed corporate office over looking downtown Houston, smiled and thought, 'You're ready, it's time to go,'" she said.
As the founder and CEO of Seremedi, a Houston-based patient healthcare tech company which was started in 2014, Evans has enjoyed being an entrepreneur and the risks it requires.
"It was very clear early on that I'm a builder and a fixer," she said. "I like the challenge of making an abstract idea a concrete deliverable. I like the urgency that's required to fix something that is broken. These skills are ideal for being an entrepreneur."