Would you wish this adversity upon a loved one? Would you enjoy watching your children enduring such hazard? Most mothers would say "no." Mine does.
And just because you are the smartest guy in the room does not mean you will be successful. Charles Goodyear patented the process for making vulcanized rubber, but never made a penny from his innovation. Nikola Tesla pioneered alternating current (AC) electricity and Johannes Gutenberg brought us the printing press, but both died penniless and shamed. Many of history's greatest innovators died with arrows in their backs. We revere them now but in their time they were miserable outcasts.
So that idea, that compelling vision, that unified chaos theory you've been whittling away on had better be a really good one. And it had better be one you are willing and able to drag through the valley of the shadow of death after three days with no water, because that's the sort of negative inertia that the world, which didn't wake up this morning demanding the fruits of your genius, will throw at you. And if you are in it just to be on the cover of Forbes, or to be the toast of a tech conference, or to be the subject of M&A speculation in the Twitterverse, then that's just about when you're likely to pack it up and go home.
In fact, many successful entrepreneurs were dragged kicking and screaming into that lifestyle after trying and failing to germinate their brilliant idea at their former employer (the latter of which is certainly the less risky, if less financially rewarding, option). The pioneering inventors of the silicon-based transistor that kick-started the entire technology revolution found their ideas falling on deaf ears at their employer and became known as the "traitorous eight" when they defected to form their own company, Fairchild Semiconductor. None among them knew how to write a business plan or had a spreadsheet detailing cash flow and burn. What they did have was a lot of experience and a truly great and unique idea scribbled on a single piece of paper.
Which is to illustrate that when you know what you're doing, when the object of your pursuit is worthy, and when you are able to very clearly articulate your chase for an audience beyond your parents, siblings, friends, and uncles—you're probably ready.
One piece of advice I give to would-be entrepreneurs is to get a job at a startup prior to embarking on one's own.
One piece of advice I give to would-be entrepreneurs is to get a job at a startup prior to embarking on one's own. There are two reasons for this. First, as startups are usually tiny, startup employees get a front row seat to the business process and will be able to observe how it should or should not be done. Second, they will experience roughly 25% of the drama and buffeting endured by that company's founder and, it doing so, their mettle will be tested.
My second piece of advice is to find a mentor—preferably, one who isn't afraid to deliver the truth, however brutal. You want someone who will not drink the Kool-Aid along with you and your peers, has some hard-won experience in the field, and who sees promise in your talent, good looks and enthusiasm. The easiest way to develop a mentor is to help them be successful in their careers by working with them.
In the meantime, there is nothing shameful about keeping your day job. That day job has a fortuitous advantage over entrepreneurship in that it pays your rent, puts food in the larder and keeps Mom from worrying about you. And perhaps more importantly, your day job helps you to develop skills, helps you to grow your business network, and is constantly bombarding you with problems that need fixing—just one of which might flower to become your Big Idea.
Ian Bell is a Vancouver-based veteran of 13 years building and helping technology startups in the US & Canada, and most recently founded Tingle and RosterBot. A former Apple Research Fellow and SFU graduate, he worked at Cisco Systems and Telus before going rogue. Check out his blog.