As a coach and consultant, I speak a lot about entrepreneurship. People often ask me when I decided to become an entrepreneur. And the truth is, I didn’t.
After a few years working as an architect, I was lured from the Midwest to New York City and went to work at an early digital media agency. I was hired to apply my 3D modeling skills to high-end touch screen kiosks, but they quickly learned that I could design and construct intuitive user experiences of complex informational environments and systems.
I spent many years moving businesses online. This included some very complex projects, like the Department of Defense’s procurement contract system that managed everything from toilet paper to bulldozers.
I love the design and logical challenges of these systems, but one thing infuriated me. We would create these great solutions with great interface designs that would excite our clients, then everyone would have to wait while we handed over our plans and specifications to the engineering teams to figure out how to build them.
We would wait weeks, months, and sometimes more. In most cases, we would get something back and it wouldn’t work as we envisioned, or what we specified just didn’t work once we put it into 1s and 0s. We came to realize and understand that we couldn’t always specify perfect systems and that sometimes our ideas didn’t solve users’ true needs or they simply didn’t compute.
That’s when I discovered a book by Kent Beck called “Extreme Programing Explained” and I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. Kent described a way of building software using a collaborative team of users, designers, and engineers that focused on building small solutions quickly, putting them in the hands of real customers to try, then taking their feedback, and incorporating it into the design process to create the next version. No more complex specification documents, no more long wait times for development, no more disappointed users. I was convinced this was the better way, so I started my campaign to “go Agile”.
Then I got a call from a friend who had a prospective client who needed a new system built which would allow me to start from scratch. It was in an industry I didn’t know well and it would mean I would have to leave my current company, but it was a blank slate and a real client. I held my nose, stepped to the edge of the cliff…and jumped.
What I didn’t realize was that by making that jump I was not just taking on a new project, I was starting a new company. Over the years we found more clients, then more employees, then more offices. We built that company to a team of nearly 50 people and, in the process, put it on the Inc 5000 list five years in a row. In 2009, we were the 241st fastest growing company in the US.
For me, becoming an entrepreneur just kinda happened. I think of it as an unintended consequence of my other goals and ambitions. However, once I jumped off that cliff, I had to wake up every morning and decide to “remain” an entrepreneur. And that was not always an easy thing to do.
Owning and running a business is a feast or famine proposition. We either didn’t have enough customers and were stressed about making payroll, or we had too much work and I had to tell clients there would be delays. Employees had issues and wanted more money or didn’t want to do certain work. Clients wanted more services but yet didn’t want to pay for them. Vendors would provide subpar services yet demand high rates. Some days it took all of my energy just to walk into the office and face the onslaught of questions, issues, and demands.
But I did. I did it for ten years. And I did it for three main reasons.
First, I love solving problems. As an architect and a designer, I’m fascinated by puzzles and I have an internal hunger to solve them. One day when I was about seven years old, I spent hours playing with a wrought-iron puzzle my dad got me. After five hours, when I finally finished it, I was a little disappointed. I wanted another puzzle to solve. It was then that I realized I love the process almost more than the completion. There is always more to do, more to figure out, and more to solve with business. It’s a never ending challenge. And that’s fun for me.
Second, I did it because I wanted to make a difference. By founding a company, I was creating jobs and careers for people. If I gave up, I would be putting dozens of people out of work. I was proud to have impacted other people’s lives in such a positive way.
Lastly, I knew that as bad as it felt on the hard days, it was better than the alternative. Even though being an employee was “easier” on some level, I don’t really like easy. I like challenge. Being an entrepreneur has been more challenging than climbing Kilimanjaro and bigger than completing an Ironman triathlon (both of which I’ve done). It has tested me in ways I never knew I could be tested. It’s my most cherished accomplishment.
Now, when people ask me “when did I decide to become an entrepreneur,” I tell them that every morning, I decide to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur is not a one-time decision, it’s something that I must choose to do every single day.
This article was written by Entrepreneurs Organization from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.