In the most recent Inc. Magazine, Norm Brodsky used his Street Smarts column to answer a few reader questions. One in particular caught my interest:
I am 17 years old and recently sold a website for $100,000. It took me and my partners eight months to build, and we had to overcome many obstacles. And yet, when we finally sold it, I didn’t feel excited or elated. Rather, I’ve been really depressed. I went to a dance with a date last Friday and had a horrible time. It reminded me how out of touch I’ve been. As I was building the business, I kept thinking, What are you willing to give up to get what you want? I gave up everything. I haven’t watched TV in months, and so now I can’t talk with friends about the shows they’ve seen. I gave up piano. I haven’t read a good book of fiction in a while. I haven’t done sports such as swimming, and I used to be one of the fastest swimmers in the club at my school.
So even though I reached my goal, I am not a happy kid. I’ve decided I need to quit business — or at least take a break for a while. I’m planning to study hard and go through school as normal people do. Do you think I’m making the right decision?
— Hanson So
Norm gave a very good answer, but the more important point is that inevitably, if you want to start a business, you’ll probably have to give up quite a bit socially, regardless of your age. In a lot of ways, being a student entrepreneur (something I generally advocate) can stunt your personal growth. I was lucky enough not to catch the entrepreneurship bug until the end of college, long after I had the “normal” high school experiences (football team, prom, etc etc) and after I got the college partying out of my system.
I pretty much sacrificed my social life from ages 22 – 25 to get myself and the business into a strong financial position. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Sure, it sucked sometimes, but much like Hanson I think I wouldn’t have been able to handle the social trade-off had I started any earlier. Starting in my 30’s or 40’s with a wife and kids would be just as problematic in different ways. Not that it’s ever easy, but I’d make the argument that those first 3 – 5 years after college are the best ones to immerse yourself in starting a business. Now at 26 I could conceivably do all of those “late 20’s” social things that people do: marriage, house, and kids. I don’t really want to do those things (quite yet), but at least I have the opportunity to.
That said, there’s never really an ideal time to do something that requires sacrifice. That’s what makes it a sacrifice.