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Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Entrepreneur Lifestyle

I have written before about the differences that I noticed between our lifestyle now and our lifestyle when Steph and I were both employees. Most of these posts were written in the early months of the business. So I feel that it is time to write an up date now that we are in our ninth month and Steph has been working in the business full time for almost 2 months.

The most striking thing about our life now is that our lives now revolve around building something that we both believe in, that is ultimately for us. Yes, we have investors who have provided some funding, but we retain ownership of the majority of the shares. As a result, we find ourselves working harder than ever, and yet, we don't feel nearly as harried or stressed as we used to. I've noticed the biggest difference in Steph, who is happy and relaxed now that she can work in her own space and can listen to whatever music she wants when she works. Plus, there are not too many workplaces that allow this:

That is little Viktor, who came into our lives back in September. Every so often during the day, he will either go and see Steph and will sleep on her lap, or if he misses me, he jumps up on the dining table, where I work, and after checking out my stuff, will plant himself down and go to sleep as he is doing here around 10 am yesterday, when I took this picture. Because at least one of us has been home the whole time Viktor has been in our lives, we have been able to care for him completely throughout his development, and his bond with us is very strong. As obnoxious as he can be sometimes, I love it when he does this. 

That leads me to the following observation: not only do we work harder now, but every minute of our day is spent doing meaningful things that count. We have cut out almost all the wasteful BS that consumed so much of our days before:

  • Hours spent commuting to and from work, plus the cost.
  • Weekends spent running errands instead of resting.
  • Unproductive meetings in which nothing ever gets accomplished.
  • Hours spent talking about working with bosses and co-workers instead of actually doing it. 
  • Hours spent putting out fires and managing organizational crises that could have been prevented with better organization.
  • Hours spent managing the optics of our work - giving the appearance of working hard or being professional. Now, how we look while we work is of absolutely no importance. 
It is the fact that so much of our days before were just straight up BS that made us feel so horrible inside. Both Steph and I are hard workers and both of us are simple people, with simple, non-extravagant tastes. So it's not as though we disliked working hard, or even for someone else's benefit. No, what we couldn't stand was the idea of spending so much of our lives doing pointless things. Maybe we both have an attitude problem and the things I speak of here are not pointless and we just don't see how necessary and meaningful they really are. But I have just noticed that we are much happier and more focused today than we were before. 

The flip side though is that all of this freedom does come at a cost. Most of the things that I used to take for granted, like being able to just book a $2,000 vacation and think nothing of it are now a big deal and cannot just be done on a whim. However, as I said before in some of my earlier posts, I am finding that I have so much less of a need for these costly extras than I used to. Because our lives now have a focus and meaning that was missing before, I find that we are able to obtain pleasure in much simpler activities. Steph and I for instance go on lots of walks in our neighborhood. Usually we will take a pack of cards with us and stop at the local coffee shop and either read or play cards and will just walk around the neighborhood. I don't know if this is just my experience, but I suspect that many of you reading this would find the same thing yourselves if you have every wanted to run your own business. 

What holds most people back is fear of the unknown and a mistaken belief that there is one right way to succeed in business and if you don't find that right way, you will fail. The reality, I am discovering is that all businesses are "winging it", and trying to find the way to success. There is no secret formula for fast success. Business is all about relationships and providing value. Both of these things take time and repetitive effort to come to fruition. I believe that there are three things that separate the successful businesses from the failures:

  • Staying power
  • Open mindedness and a willingness to change approaches
  • Playing the long game
These three concepts are a fine balance in the sense that a business that is too rigid - that ignores the reality of the marketplace and what the customers want will ultimately fail without staying power. On the other hand sometimes a business concept is ahead of its time and it takes time for the market to respond to the introduction of a valuable product or service. In those cases, to succeed, the entrepreneur has to have the confidence and the staying power to see the concept through. Staying power is improved by having adequate capital and avoiding taking too much money out of the business too early. This is where the frugal lifestyle comes in. Steph and I work almost for free - we live on mostly savings right now and that was the plan until we could get the infrastructure of the business built, which I figured would take a year and a half. 

My business concept is new. Stamp collecting is over 160 years old now as a hobby and stamp dealers have been around since then. But no stamp dealer in history has done what we are attempting to do now. Most stamp dealers are generalists with bricks and mortar stores, or they are auctioneers selling stamps in bulk. Most have been completely focused on just selling the stamps themselves as the only component of their value proposition. Our value proposition is different. We have chosen to specialize and to attempt to build the most in-depth and extensive stock of our area in the business. Does this mean that we have everything? No. But it does mean that if you collect Canada or British West Africa, you are more likely to find what you are looking for at a price you feel is fair than with our competitors. We are not the cheapest dealers on the block. Our asking prices are high, but we give you, the customer, the option of making an offer you feel is fair, and most of the time we accept those offers. That is another area in which we deliver value. A third area in which we deliver value is in the thoroughness and consistency of our descriptions. We scan both sides of a stamp and for early stamps up to 1953, we scan the actual stamp you are buying. Our descriptions are the most accurate in the business and as a customer you can rest assured that every stamp we grade as say VF-75 out of 100 will be the same quality, no matter whether you bought it last year, today, or five years from now. We are also service oriented in the sense that we ship out on the same day or next morning after a sale is made, and we respond to all customer queries within minutes of receiving them. Finally, we educate collectors at large by sharing all of our knowledge in a blog that gets updated several times a week. 

Delivering all this value takes a tremendous amount of time. What's more is that I know the reward for doing so will not be anything close to immediate because collectors are not used to receiving this kind of value from their stamp dealer. It will take time for the marketplace at large to decide to shop with us on a regular basis. This is why in my original business plan, I made allowances for having to live on savings and not paying a salary until a year and a half had passed. I figure that that is how much time it will take for the business to gather enough momentum to do this. I could be wrong ultimately - maybe all stamp collectors care about are the stamps. But I doubt it, because my observations of all other consumer markets and the time-honoured practices that I see in retail tell me that consumers care about an overall experience rather than just a mere product. Thus, while we have to listen to what our customers are telling us and make tweaks to the business plan, it is important to have the confidence and staying power to stick to the course and not waver too much. An example of wavering is if I woke up tomorrow and decided that instead of the pricing strategy we have followed, which is working to an extent, that we'll just decide to head off in another direction and slash our asking prices 50% and take away the option to bargain. Such a move might be a good one, but to do it without having gathered the proper evidence to support it would be foolish wavering in my opinion. 

So if you have identified an idea that will deliver genuine value to consumers and you are willing to sacrifice many of your creature comforts and extras for a few years, then I think you can start your own business and become a success. Honestly the rewards of this lifestyle have not yet faded and I continue to be amazed at how much better life is with each passing day. 

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