People think that being an entrepreneur is about being flashy and posting rubbish on Instagram about "hustling". They think being a tech founder is somehow sexy. But let me tell you; it's not.
Being an entrepreneur, founder or founder CEO is one of the hardest roles in the world.
I've been in business now for 12 years. And along this journey, I've both built successful companies and watched it all crumble — more than once.
Entrepreneurship has been romanticised in the past five to 10 years, with the rise of the "start up" ecosystem, co-working spaces on every corner, the global influence from Silicon Valley, the rise of AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Facebook.
And while it's never been easier to "become" an entrepreneur or tech founder, a lot of people are now attracted to it for all the wrong reasons. These are the people I call "wantrepreneurs". And there is no shortage of them at all.
Thanks to them and our social-media-driven-everything-looks-better-than-it-really-is world, people get a major misrepresentation of what being a tech founder is truly like.
The harsh reality people don't realise is that you're the CFO (Chief Firefighting Officer).
Not only are you running around trying to fix things (especially in the early days), but along the way you need to balance the perceptions, opinions, needs and desires across every stakeholder, ie; customers, market, investors, legals, your team, the media, etc. — and often — they're in direct conflict with each other!
While CEO at iRecruit, a cloud-based platform for job seekers and employers, I was involved with and appeared on Shark Tank Australia to promote and we managed to raise more than $500k on a seed round of early investor funding.
Off the back of that capital raising we were able to bring on a couple very experienced board members. While this was a massive draw card for the company, over time it devolved into a major culture clash where the board was at odds with the young, talented team I had building the software.
On one side, there was the argument; "The team is too young and inexperienced to deliver a product to market", and on the other was "the goalposts keep getting changed at every board meeting".
Both viewpoints were true, both had merit. The team was young, and the goalposts were changed based on changes in the marketplace (sometimes you need to pivot), but the result was a serious rift in the company at large.
Differences of opinions happen all the time in business, and they get more difficult to manage when you're trying to build a company at scale, and especially when you're doing things in a novel way.
At this same company, I was initially praised for being a renegade, bucking the trend and doing things "my way", and at the end, was ostracised for that same behaviour.
Elon Musk is a great example of a true entrepreneur that's going through this now. The media went out and made him bigger than Ben Hur.
They over-hyped everything he did, and when you're on a roll, things tend to compound and become recursive — which led to a large disparity between the reality of where Tesla (as a company) is, and where people perceived the real-life Iron Man had brought it to.
Elon used this (and rightly so) to fuel the brand and as a result fuel the company.
But, things don't happen as quickly in real life as today's world of instant gratification would like to make you believe they do. So when the numbers come out, the disparity of perception and reality become clear — and guess who's to blame — the CEO.
He's gone from hero to zero, at least in some people's eyes.
Imagine what that does to a company internally? Imagine the balancing act one would need to constantly manage, between not only all of the stakeholders in a business as I mentioned earlier, but also worldwide media, retail investors, hedge funds and large scale short sellers — all while trying to actually run a "growth" company in the auto-industry, at scale AND have a meaningful impact on the engineering.
It's a monumental task.
People need to either take the good with the bad, appreciate that Musk's celebrity is tied to Tesla, and nobody is perfect, or stop investing in Tesla and visionary-type entrepreneurs and put their money into McDonalds or Proctor & Gamble, where I bet 99.9 per cent of people have no clue who the founder or CEO is.
Being a CEO requires making mission critical decisions EVERY DAY, with only 5 per cent of the available information, because it's physically impossible to be across everything all the time.
You have all the pressure of making sure this thing succeeds, and when things go wrong (which they inevitably do, nobody is perfect) you have to cop all the scrutiny.
It's probably why someone like Jack Ma has decided to turn the chapter in his life. He is another quintessential visionary-type entrepreneur, and was a major catalyst for the Chinese tech revolution.
Like Musk, he's most certainly said and done things people would think crazy, (although we in the West don't see it as much), the most recent being the so-called "abrupt" exit from Alibaba.
Some people came out and said: "He's throwing the towel in", which I think couldn't be further from the truth.
After almost 30 years in the business, he's achieved more than just about any entrepreneur in the world will ever achieve, and he's now moving into a space where he thinks he can make a more meaningful impact.
And good on him for doing so. Why hang around and risk being remembered for the one thing you messed up among the one million things you did right?
Being a tech founder is often overrated, and under appreciated.
To this day, 90 per cent of businesses fail in the first year, and 90 per cent of those that made the first year, are no longer in business after five years. That's a 1 per cent success rate. The statistics are even worse in the tech space, where the competition is truly cutthroat.
You take on all of the pressure, with a tiny probability of success, all while taking a wage that a McDonalds Junior would scoff at!
Not a lot of people make it, because not a lot of people can make it.
And for those that do, it wasn't due to "luck", but due to grit, perseverance, and a never-give-up attitude.
(Although in the current credit fuelled market cycle we're in, there has been much more space for lucky wantrepreneurs).
This role is not for the many, and for good reason; it's not glamorous, BUT, it's the role we've chosen.
The world needs visionary entrepreneurs to spur it on and inspire the rest of us, while the rest of the world needs to understand that what entrepreneurs do is not easy, it's not for the faint of heart, that building meaningful products and ethical companies takes time, that mistakes will definitely be made along the way and that we need to be careful not to conflate reality and hype.