Entrepreneurs who make it big tend to look back and romanticize the start-up phase of their businesses. I suppose if I ever make it big, really big, I might do the same. But frankly, from where I’m sitting, I don’t get it. Starting a business is difficult at best. At worst, it can literally kill a person. If the work itself doesn’t kill you, the worry will. The 24/7 burden of business ownership is impossible for non-owners to fully understand and appreciate. As to my three-legged metal desk held up by phone books, I’m not sure anybody really cares.
Three months after starting our business, I took a rare afternoon off. Yet to close our first deal, I was beyond frustration. I was starting to feel a little desperate. Easy to understand, given my lack of income and the very expensive home we had yet to sell in Memphis. I remembered what a well-known business school prof had said about entrepreneurial terror. He said that until you wake up in the middle of the night with your spine sweating, you haven’t been an entrepreneur. Well, it was two o’clock in the afternoon, but I could distinctly feel my spine sweating as I was checking my voicemail.
To my astonishment, I had a message from one of my prospects saying he was ready to close the deal we had discussed the previous week. My loud “whooohooo!” was cut short by the lump in my throat. I thought of those restaurateurs who frame their first dollar. How could I memorialize our first sale? Frame the contract? Take a picture of the client and me? Every idea seemed cheesier than the one before. History was in the making and I knew it. I just didn’t know what to do about it. So, I did what any self-respecting tycoon would do, I hugged my wife and took her out to dinner. Now, we’re rollin’!
I’d rather be an entrepreneur than married to one. There’s no doubt in my mind which duty is tougher. Elaine has filled the role beautifully. She patiently listens to my incessant whining about the state of the business. She exercises great restraint by offering advice only when it is truly sought. When she’s had enough, she knocks me back in line with her favorite question, “why do you think they call it work?” As a free-spirited artist, Elaine forces me to paint at least some portion of my life outside the lines. I love her for this and so much more.
Did I mention we were broke when we started our business? Consequently, from our first day in business, we were incurring additional debt to pay the bills and buy groceries. As quickly as they had come, gone were our debt-free Salad Days in Memphis. Of the many rocks in the entrepreneur’s bag, I find debt to be the most burdensome. Truly, “the borrower is a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). ” This slave goes to bed every night dreaming of the day when, once again, he will owe no one anything.
If you own a new business, it’s impossible to borrow money without providing a personal guaranty. In the event of default, the lender can not only take everything you have in the business, but everything you have personally as well. This would include your home, but unfortunately, does not include your teenagers.