This Wednesday I’ll be saying goodbye to my job of four years and striking out on my own. It should be a moment of exhilaration and celebration—except for the fact the U.S. financial market just cried Jenga! in the middle of my endeavor. Here are three reasons why I’m not crazy.
The first is that, despite (or rather because of) your natural instincts, recessions are a good time to start a business. The risks associated with jumping into a tumultuous environment is a natural herd-thinner. Here, there be dragons. Those who are looking for security or opportunity find it somewhere else, leaving the field of start-ups reserved for the lean and hungry.
Imagine if innovators of the early naughts remained shell-shocked from the Dot Com bursting (a bubble worth $5 trillion!) and played it conservative, never giving their big idea a real shot. We’d live in a world without Wikipedia (’01), MySpace (’03), del.icio.us (’03), Flickr (’04), and lots of other examples.
Beyond the lack of competition, there are genuine economic reasons to start a business in a recession. As unemployment goes up, expectations for salaries and benefits fall—good news for an owner and bad news for an employee (or interviewee). This principle applies to other “resources” beyond labor. Office vacancies decrease rent, for instance, and overhead shrinks.
The second reason I’m not crazy is that this decision, while seemingly impulsive given the weather outside, has been a year in the making and has involved my reading half a dozen books and attending two conferences on the subject. When I stopped learning new things, I knew it was time. For my life goals, this is the right thing to do now.
Living in San Francisco and working at a non-profit is a recipe for permanent Bohemianism (or YAWNism, at least). While that’s a lifestyle that I find not only acceptable but even attractive, it’s not a one that can support the opportunities I want to provide for my children (none yet, just thinking ahead). If starting a business is the primary path to wealth, that’s a path I need to take today—not when I’d be subjecting a family to the risks I am willing to bare myself*.
The third reason is, well… yes, I am crazy. But that’s okay.
At the recent Start Conference, Ev Williams (founder of Blogger and Twitter) gave “hallucinogenic optimism” as a prerequisite for entrepreneurship. A few panels later, Marc Hedlund (founder of Wesabe) painted a picture of obsession as a key personality trait, quoting fellow entrepreneur Paul Hawken, “Do the idea that won’t leave you alone.” A few panels later, venture capitalist David Hornik confirmed, “This is hard work. You have to be crazy.”
Next episode: What I’ll actually be doing.
* And Sarah’s being awesome about it all.