My choice to share my entrepreneurial journey is solely to provide some guidance to those with a similar curiosity or aspiration. Frankly, while many aspire to be their own boss someday, very few have what it takes to make it happen. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. The business world needs leaders and followers. Both are necessary to succeed, and both serve equally important roles when success is achieved. Thus, your first challenge is to figure out whether entrepreneurship is right for you.
Though born in the United States, I spent my early childhood to teenage years in Nigeria. There I discovered through observing my parents at an early age that I would want to be an entrepreneur one day. When I returned to the United States for my higher education, I focused my academic and professional journey on acquiring skills and experiences that aligned with my goal. For example, when I graduated from college, I focused on learning business from an operational lens at a global company, which is how I initially ended up in the area of Global Supply Chain Management for 5 years. Similarly, most of my MBA electives, during my time at Smith was focused on Strategy and Entrepreneurship.
After almost 10 years of preparation and a progressive career, I decided to make the leap on August 30th, 2013. Yes, I gave up my well paying job. Prior to making the leap, I had a moment of discovery about 3 years ago when it became apparent to me what I wanted to do in business. But I had to be patient. Timing is everything in business. If miscalculated, it could be very costly. Nonetheless, I put my money where my mouth was and I invested a decent amount of monies saved into establishing my company over a 6 – 8 month timeframe while still working in my former job. I recognized that failing at something you want to do is more fulfilling that never trying at all. I knew I couldn’t be successful when I was comfortable. So I found creative ways to significantly reduce my expenses to supplement for my loss of income.
While it has only been a month on my own, it has been a very rewarding experience. Life has taken on a whole new meaning. I have a newfound desire to wake up in the morning and renewed purpose to stay up late at night. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but the possibility of what could be is overwhelming. I am finding comfort in being vulnerable again, a feeling that is often frowned upon in corporate America. Even writing this blog post is uncomfortable, but you know what, it’s part of the journey. If I did not believe in myself, I would not have courage to write this post.
I realized my strengths and weaknesses early. But I’ve worked to build up and leverage my network to complement my strengths and supplement for your weaknesses. Do not be deceived. You can’t do it on your own and you do not know it all. Partnerships and relationships are the backbone in business.
In summary, determine whether entrepreneurship is right for you. Focus on acquiring the necessary skills and experiences, professionally and academically. Be patient and prepare for the best feasible time. Remember no time is exactly perfect but don’t be scared to fail. Just do it. It is more rewarding than never trying because you just never know.
Chinedum Nwaneri (Class of ’04 & ’12) is the C.E.O./C.O.O. of Illustrious LLC