How to know if the sacrifice is worth it.
4 min read
This story appears in the
Entrepreneur. Subscribe to "
Q: I have a startup idea … but how do I know if it's worth my time to pursue it – Nia, Chicago
That is a very important question. In fact, it might be the most important question – and many entrepreneurs bypass it on the road to independence. We're so excited about our 2 o'clock revelation that we don't want to know the answer. We fear this will be our only shot and that another great idea may never come. However, if you skip this self-examination, you can face massive ramifications in the years to come.
The consequence is: opportunity costs.
When we start a new endeavor, we become so focused on what we might gain that we overlook what else we might have done. Despite all the deification of entrepreneurs and the glorification of the hustle and bustle, building a business is really difficult. It's a long, painful, lonely slog. It's not a flip. You are entering a war that will take five years to get to the top of a hill. Five years to catch your breath and maybe get a full night of sleep. Do you want to dedicate yourself to this during these years – instead of another, perhaps smarter way?
To find out the answer, first ask yourself the following five questions:
1. Is my idea an independent company or just a function?
I've made some of my worst professional mistakes by falling in love with my clever idea and never bothering to ask myself this critical question. The reality is that most great ideas are still great – they just aren't companies. They are improvements.
Related: 4 Tips for Starting a Business While Working from Home
2. Am I running away from or towards something?
The worst decisions are made by escaping. Make sure you have a way forward, not an out. Once the crisis has subsided, you may have to do something that does not inspire you in peaceful times.
3. Is this a solution to looking for a problem?
You can come up with a solution that nobody knew they wanted (see iPod), but you will never convince people to buy a solution to a problem they don't think they have (see Google Glass).
4. Are there enough people willing to pay me for my solution to make this business big enough to at least meet my basic needs?
Yes it's a business, but if it can't feed your family and one day pay for a vacation to Disney World, what is it about? They don't give out medals – or distributions – for the attempt.
Related: Are You Productive or Just Busy?
5. Will this keep my attention in the dark times when my Star employee quits (or my toxic employee doesn't)?
Imagine the world suddenly turns into hell. (See 2020 for a helpful precedent.) With this backdrop and endless sleep deprived nights, ask yourself: Do I get up in the morning and say, “It's still worth it”?
As you ask yourself these five questions, remember: The real challenge in starting a business isn't just predicting your opportunity cost today, but considering your future yourself. The question is not what am I capable of right now? But what can I do in five years? What can the best version of me, not the person staring at me in the mirror, do? While these are abstract questions, these are important questions – because you are not just making a decision about what to do now. You bet on your future.