I’ve told this story so many times — often by request, I need to point out — that some of my friends think it happened to them.
It was while working at one of the half-dozen or so publication start-ups I’ve been involved with that I found myself working especially late, trying to salvage a far-too-long magazine feature about exploding tires from Akron, the latest political and/or fiscal catastrophe to vex Cleveland or some other comforting Ohio-related topic.
I’d stopped by the restroom, which was along a dark hallway in a building that also was inhabited by what was quaintly called a “men’s magazine.” (I didn’t choose the real estate.) As I got near, I could see through the partially opened door that the light was still on, and I figured someone simply had neglected to switch it off.
I opened the door and stepped into the room before I realized someone was already there. Standing with one foot resting on the toilet and casually smoking a cigarette was a young woman of about average height and weight, with phenomenally blond hair and three-inch ruby-red high heels.
And wearing positively nothing else.
“Hey, how are you?” she smiled calmly through a puff a smoke.
“Um …,” I replied.
Golly, I thought, I’ll bet this sort of thing doesn’t happen at the Wall Street Journal … .
Now, discovering near-naked models in the men’s room isn’t something that happens every day, no matter where you’re employed. But working late into the night is not unusual for a start-up, whether it be for a magazine or any other fledgling business.
Other characteristics all new enterprises can have in common is that they can be turbulent, unpredictable (see example above) and very scary.
Which is why starting your own company isn’t for everyone, even when it isn’t your own cash trying to ignite the thing.
Peter Hinssen of the University of California-Irvine’s Center for Digital Transformation agrees. In a June 7 Forbes.com post, he notes all the publicity lavished on tech poster children such as David Karp, the 26-year-old who sold Tumblr to Yahoo for $1.1 billion, is deceptive.
“The image portrayed with the likes of Tumblr is that it’s ‘easy.’ That somehow it’s all fun and games, and ‘simple’ to build a company … . The truth is, it isn’t,” he writes.
Hinssen — who’s overseen two marvelously successful start-ups and one failure he was forced to sell for pennies on the dollar — relates the anxious days and sleepless nights fueled by the “constant fear” that you’ll lose everything, that your business model won’t actually work, that you’ll run out of capital, that your customers will shun you and that your talent will leave you — or worse, become competitors.
If you can’t cope, then don’t even think about starting your own business, he says.
But if you can live with all that stress, he continues, “It’s a better business education than any business school would ever provide you.”
So go ahead with your eyes wide open.
And, as I’ve since learned, always knock first.