Question from HS student: Why doesn’t everyone start a business?

Last week I was able to speak to five classes at a local high school, and talk about my experiences as an entrepreneur. One of the students sent me this question via email:

Why doesn’t everyone start a business?

And the back story was, “if anyone can start a business and make money at it, why doesn’t everyone start a business doing something? Why doesn’t everyone start a web site? What is stopping people?” This video tries to answer the question in one way when it talks about distractions and excuses…

To add to the video, I think there are at least seven reasons why people don’t get started:

  1. It seems like human beings, given a choice, would rather sit on the couch watching TV, or surfing Facebook, or playing video games, instead of doing something like “opening a business” or “starting a web site”. In my experience, 99% of people would prefer to sit on the couch, and only 1% of the people can ever get enough motivation/energy/inspiration together to get up off the couch and start something. I cannot explain why this is, but it is. Wouldn’t it be better to get off the couch and start something, even if it fails, than to sit on the couch watching porn or playing Call of Duty? To 99% of the people, the answer to this question seems to be “No!”.
  2. Most Americans don’t have any spare cash. They live paycheck-to-paycheck and have no savings at all. So if the question is, “why doesn’t everyone open a restaurant?”, the answer definitely is, “most American’s don’t have the money to attempt it.” The same thing goes for “buying a rental house.” This still doesn’t explain the “starting a web site” option, because this option is nearly free.
  3. Many people do not know how to start, or they think about getting started and immediately run into a sea of questions that they are not prepared to answer (or willing to spend the time answering). Or they look up their questions, and there are a hundred possible answers, all viable, and then paralysis occurs because it is impossible to know which answer is the “best one” or the “right one”.
  4. There is the probability of failure. Why try to start something if the higher likelihood is failure (or mediocre outcome) rather than success? I think that if success were guaranteed, more people would start things, but the prior three items in this list would still hamper many. Add the prior three to the probability of failure, and many people shut down. [Strangely, they do not shut down on the lottery. Most people fail to win anything in the lottery, yet many people keep playing. Why? Because it is super-easy to play, and there are reminders to play everywhere, and the cost of entry is low, and the potential upside is high.] [Fun fact: About half of all Americans play the lottery]
  5. Starting a business requires sustained effort and self-discipline, and this is another human nature thing like #1 – many human beings are not great at sustained effort. So a person might get super-motivated and get started one day, and then a week later they abandon it. We see this all the time with New Year Resolutions.
  6. There is some potential that things might blow up in your face. So if you did save the money, and did get off the couch, and did decide to buy a rental house, then… there is some probability that the tenant will completely trash the place, leaving you with a giant headache and a giant bill that you may be unable to recover from. This probability is discouraging to many people, especially people who trend toward an Eeyore personality.
  7. Some people never come up with an idea that feels compelling enough to set things in motion. Or they start an idea, and there is no immediate response to it (e.g. website/blog/eStore gets no visitors), and they give up very quickly. If you started a web site, and people immediately started visiting it, and they told their friends and traffic started to grow as if by magic, that would be inspiring. But this seems to happen only rarely, and the “rare” part is discouraging to people. [Even so: it cannot ever happen unless you create the web site.]

A lot of these problems are solved by creating a positive and tangible mental vision for your future, and cultivating “grit” as a personality trait. Another thing that can help is reading stories about people who have succeeded. Here is a simple example:

How two guys in their 20s built a $150,000 side hustle selling T-shirts on Amazon

If you need a starting point – if you need some way to help get you started – try this: create a personal web site for you, yourself. One possible set of steps for getting started (to help you avoid paralysis as described in #3 above):

  • Go to http://Hostgator.com or http://GoDaddy.com or similar.
  • Get a domain name (preferably your name itself, like http://MarshallBrain.com, but something close if that is not possible).
  • Buy and create a wordpress site on Hostgator. It is like $5 a month.
  • Pick a theme (just use one of the default themes if you cannot pick)
  • Type in some stuff and upload some photos. Build yourself a little web site. Need help with WordPress? Try this page.

If you don’t have $5 a month, you can go to http://wordpress.com and get a free WordPress site there.

If you get stuck on any of that, add a comment to this post, or email me, or Google it, or whatever. Just create a little web site for yourself. It is impossible to “fail” at this. Just do it. It will get you started. Once you go through the process of creating a web site for yourself, you will see how easy it is and then you will be more likely to start your second web site.

Once you do that, then start something else: a business, a website, something. How? Go here and start reading:

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