You might be an entrepreneur if…you haven’t been paid in three years.
You’re probably thinking “He’s getting paid somehow, he’s just not taking a standard paycheck is what he means.” This is true, if you count reimbursements as pay. But even the reimbursements I’ve received have been pretty slim compared to what I’ve put in. Other than that I have not received a paycheck or taken a draw from my company since February of 2003. I guess that means it has been over three and a half years at this point.
I generally don’t share this information (so much for keeping it private), but when I have the question I most often get asked is “How do you survive?” The answer is “Frugally.” My wife has a job that is enough to get us by. We don’t go out much and live more or less like we did when we were college students. In fact, we probably live poorer than when we were students.
The second question I get asked is “Why don’t you pay yourself?” This is usually asked in an incredulous tone rather than a curious one. The answer is that there just doesn’t seem to ever be any money. Again, it comes back to choices. I’ve got a prioritized list of who gets paid first. The highest priority is keeping the business alive, because without the business I can’t pay off any other debts. This can be frustrating to my debtors, but hopefully they see the logic. If I don’t pay my employees, the rent, healthcare benefits, or taxes then I’ll go out of business. If I go out of business then I’ll be in a much worse position to pay off my debts then if the business is operating. So employees and taxes get paid first, then healthcare, then rent, then utilities, and later on, my debtors. After all of that comes myself. I am the last entity to get paid, which means I only get paid if there is something left over, and there seldom is. Even if there is, I’m just getting reimbursed, not truly paid.
The third question I get asked is “Why are you doing this?” That question is asked much the same way someone might ask a mountain climber, demolition derby enthusiast, motorcycle daredevil, or medical testing subject why they do what they do. I don’t believe the answer is “Because it’s there…”, nor that I’m plain loony, and although I’m hard up for cash obviously that’s not the reason, because it ain’t giving me any cash at the moment.
Part of the answer to that last question is that I don’t have a choice, at least not a good one. Let’s assume that I was willing to quit my business and go find a normal job, which I’m not anyway, but let’s just assume. I would still have my business debts to pay off, unless I declared personal bankruptcy which I also won’t do. In order to service those debts I would need to make something in the range of $120-150K per year, since I would have to pay off those debts with post-tax dollars. And that still wouldn’t pay off the debts as fast as I’m paying them off right now. Last month I paid off around $13K in debt. How much would I have to get paid in order to have a spare $13K each month after taxes? Right now the business is my best bet for paying off my debts in the shortest time possible.
You’ve heard about how Cortez or one of those conquistadores burned his ships once he reached the Americas in order to motivate his men? That’s kind of what I’ve done. There’s no way back, I have to work through it, although I didn’t make a conscious choice to do it this way, it sort of just happened due to my ignorance, inexperience, and some bad luck thrown in.
Another part of the answer is that this isn’t a sinking business, no matter how it may seem when you read these posts. Sure, we live on the edge, but we’ve been doing that for seven years and we’re still here. We have never had a year in which we brought in less revenue than the year before. In fact, August was a record-breaking month for us as far as gross revenue and this year isn’t going so badly either. We should match last year’s revenues by the end of September, which means if the trend continues we’ll probably have revenue growth of about 30% over last year. Although there are always challenges, there are always good things happening as well. We’ve worked on some exciting projects this year for big companies, and we have good prospects going forward. If we hadn’t been making progress all these years I probably would have quit, but things have always continued moving forward enough to keep me moving forward. It’s not as fast as I would like, but there is progress. And with some new initiatives we will be launching soon we might see things speeding up.
And yes, there is part of me that is just plain stubborn. I don’t like giving up. That may not make me as wealthy as I could be if I jumped from one rising ship to another all my life, but wealth isn’t my primary motivation for doing what I’m doing. I enjoy the experience and the challenges. A business that is easy to run and makes lot of money would be boring, albeit tempting. I want to be the guy who saves failing businesses and turns them around. I want to be the guy who’s hired by companies that are in desperate states and need someone they can depend on to work through the difficulties. In some ways MWI has been a good training ground where I’ve been able to learn about myself, what I’m willing to do, how far I’m willing to go, and what is it I truly love doing. If I hadn’t had to go without pay for three and a half years I never would have really know how poor I’m willing to live and what I’m willing to sacrifice to make something work that I believe in, and that knowledge is worth a lot more to me than three and a half years worth of paychecks.Liked it? Share it!