You can be an Entrepreneur Hobbyist too!

Many people talk about creating their own business but few will ever do it.

Ironically, if you have the right preparation to create your own venture, for the same reason you are probably installed in a comfortable corporate environment, with a well paid job and good career outlook. Few people will take risks if they are not pushed to do so, whereas persons in a compromised situation (after getting fired for example), or people with nothing to lose, will realize greater things with less preparation.

But do you really have to leave your job to start a company?
No, it’s not necessary but it seems hard to run both concurrently. By doing this, you trade speed for safety, but that’s probably what you want when you start.

Enters the Entrepreneur Hobbyist: a person that has gone too far into a business to be called a hobbyist, but that has not yet become a full time entrepreneur. He doesn’t depend on the money to live, he can stop the experiment at any time, but time is with him to eventually grow the business to the critical mass and go full-time.

Nowadays, thanks to technology, there is a lot of activities that can be started with little or no investment and a reasonable workload. It’s possible, but it’s not easy: such a low barrier of entry will inevitably create a lot of competition, and being focused and smart will definitively help to get out of the pack. And build something that people will actually want to pay money for, starting from zero, is hard.

Fortunately, nowadays a business doesn’t need to be big to be profitable. Internet and search engines make millions of niche markets available, where you can “play small” and terms of risk while still making (little) money.
As a hobbyist, to become a millionaire is not a priority (not yet!) and a 5 digits business is enough to be entertained if it’s profitable. After a few years, you’ll probably want to “play bigger” and go full-time, and perhaps you’ll be in position to do it safely because you’ve laid the grounds for it.

What does a hobbyist company look like?
Take Aero Quartet, it’s three years old, has 3 products available, a few thousand customers, it is profitable, yet not big enough to sustain a family. It takes a few hours per day to run, and I run it as seriously as a normal job.
Aero Quartet is a one-guy company, I am the boss and also the lead developer, the accounting department, customer support, public relation, marketing manager and so on. I do everything, I take all credit for success and all blame for failure.

Hundreds of hours per year for a hobby, isn’t it too much?
Nobody questions the fact that we waste years of our lives watching TV. It’s common for people to spend 5 hours or more per day in front of TV, and it’s a socially accepted behavior. Is TV really worth this amount of our time? So why should I have to justify spending my spare time on a hobby? Even if as a business it never takes off.
(I have nothing against people watching TV, ok?)

Where does the motivation come from?
If it were for money, then probably I would be doing something else. I would be a broker, a lawyer or a notary.
But as a vocational engineer, what I really like is to build stuff. Excitement comes from creating something new out of nothing, from solving problems, from making a contribution.
I like to read stories about small things becoming important, about the power of individuals to change the world. Developing a start-up is your opportunity to do this. You will experience moments of doubts, despair, intense work, but also a big personal achievement when you get the damn thing to work, when you get the first sale, the first month with 4 digits revenues, the first press review. It’s probably the hardest thing that you will ever do in your profesionnal career, but also the most rewarding one.
If you’re good at building stuff and you like it, then you have the motivation. The rest can be learnt.

Why bother about selling? If it’s a hobby, why do you want to make money?
Indeed selling something immediately creates liabilities. The first dollar of revenue implies to set-up a legal business, providing support, paying taxes, and so on. But on the other side, even if it’s a small revenue, it will sustain the cost of building.
But first and foremost, charging for something raises the bar, and with real customers come real challenges. Poor ideas will never definitively fail if not through the filter of money.

Take my Movie Repair Service for example. While I was doing it for free, I repaired dozens of movies, and everybody was happy. I eventually learnt enough about repair techniques to start the business. And it suddenly becomes a lot harder. Just having the know how to repair movies is not enough. Now the determining factor is to reach the customers – Video professionals – that really see a value in this service, that are willing to pay $129 for it.

So you are confronted with a choice: Either kill it, make it a more appealing product, or keep it as it is.
You feel like an entrepreneur when you face those kind of decisions. And unless you charge for your products or services, you’ll never live the full experience.

My 4 advices for would-be Entrepreneur Hobbyists:

1. Don’t be obsessed with finding a good business idea. Just cultivate the habit of curiosity and of building stuff. The rest will come naturally.

2. Spending time in a product doesn’t make it better. Some products will never work, no matter how many hours you invest in improving them. Be courageous and kill them before it’s too late.

3. Do what your bigger competitors cannot do: Play smart and risky where your competitors cannot. Because you’re nothing, you can do anything. Not them.

4. Play safe: You don’t want to take legal or financial risks for a hobby, right?

And finally: If luck is preparation meeting opportunity, success for Entrepreneur Hobbyists is probably just a question of time.