The five stages of entrepreneurial awakening


  • Columns
  • Monday, 30 Mar 2015

Is maintaining your current lifestyle more important than having a fresh start in life?

Feeling like you have to break away from the humdrum of the nine-to-five existence?Here’s a check list on whether you’re ready to take the leap

Q: I feel stuck at my current job. It’s not a bad position – I have opportunities to grow professionally and I am paid very well. The problem is that I have my own idea for a business, which keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning. But each day I have to divert that energy into my job.

Should I leave my job and start my own business without any sort of certainty? People keep telling me that I don’t need to quit in order to pursue my entrepreneurial dream, but I know that if I want the dream to become a reality, I should put everything I have into it. What advice do you have for me, and for others like me who feel similarly stuck? – Theodore Eccleston

A: Congratulations, Theodore! You have reached the threshold that separates the true entrepreneurs from people who merely have good ideas. The decision about whether to cross it is now yours to make. The question is: Do you have what it takes to make it to the other side?

The feeling of being stuck is actually a good sign – you are not just a drone earning a paycheck. In terms of your career, it’s the equivalent of having a bellyache: Your unhappiness and lack of fulfillment and purpose are motivating you to do something different.

Here are some simple steps that should make the decision easier for you. Let’s call them the five stages of entrepreneurial awakening:

1. EVALUATE YOUR IDEA

OK, you have an idea. Now what? Good business ideas are a dime a dozen, and they are not all worth pursuing.

Ask yourself: Have I done the due diligence necessary to take my idea to the next level? Does my idea solve a problem? Meet a need? Touch a nerve? Is it unique? Has it been done before?

Write down your answers, then critique them as thoroughly as you can. The best ideas are those that can withstand heavy critical analysis. If you can’t do this alone – which is almost always the case – then take your idea to someone you trust and ask for their perspective.

Still standing? Good. Let’s move on.

2. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

Let’s assume that you have come up with an amazing new product or service that meets all the criteria outlined above. Good for you. Now it’s time to plan.

Ask yourself: What do I need to do to make this idea a reality? Have I developed a business plan? What are my capital needs? How far away am I from having a working prototype? Have I looked for potential partners and investors? What’s my distribution strategy?

At this point, you may want to look for a mentor if you don’t have one already – a seasoned business veteran who can push you in the right direction, point out potential pitfalls and help you to navigate around them.

I still rely heavily on others’ advice, though I’ve been an entrepreneur for nearly five decades. After all, without the advice I received from some great mentors, Virgin might still just be a little record store somewhere in London.

3. WEIGH THE RISKS

You had an idea, and now you have a plan. Great. Let’s talk about you now.

Theodore, you said that you are feeling stuck, but how stuck? Ask yourself: Would I rather keep paying my bills or am I ready to live on my savings for a while? Is maintaining my current lifestyle more important than having a fresh start in life?

You see, entrepreneurship is all about taking risks – potentially disruptive and frightening life risks. If your family depends on your income, it is your responsibility to think things through very carefully.

If your answer is still a resounding and emphatic “Yes” after you have weighed all the risks, then you are ready to leap.

4. TAKE THE PLUNGE

If you’re still with me at this point, the next stage should be a simple one: Take the plunge. Cross the line. And never once look back. You won’t regret it.

5. DON’T STOP BELIEVING

The key to success is unwavering commitment and focus. You will make mistakes as you launch your product or service – a ton of them. But keep your eye on the prize and never blink. If you stop believing, your entire enterprise will be called into question.

In my case, when our team started Virgin Atlantic with just one plane and little knowledge of the airline business, we stood alone against established players who were ready to bury us.

No one would have faulted us for throwing in the towel and going back to the music business. Yet we saw the enormous potential in disrupting and reinventing airline travel through superior service and innovation.

So we kept going, and we are still going strong after three decades. It’s all about drive.

  •  Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to RichardBranson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column. – distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
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