An alternative for the 40 hours work week please!

Etienne Manuhuwa

The more I talk to other fellow students about their idea for the future career, the more I notice that it is not only me who really struggles with this crucial life choice. On one hand, we have the hunger to explore the world, a willingness to try new things and continue to learn. We are still young, have a lot of energy, eagerness, intellectual capacity. Future should look bright, shouldn’t it? On the other hand, we tend to be concerned about the future job perspectives. The leitmotiv of  the worries usually is: “how can I, after all of the wonderful years of studying in freedom, autonomy and flexibility, go to work and spend (at best option) 40 hours a week there?!”.

Triggered by this haunting question, I thought about an alternative. Let’s think for a moment that being young, energetic, with relatively no/little burden on shoulders, willing to have the flexibility and aiming at effectiveness rather than long working hours are all assets. What to do with these assets? Become an entrepreneur! It seems like we are at the best time of our lives to start a business. We really have it all! Since it is easier said than done, I will present you some ideas worth considering before taking the challenge of becoming an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurial personality

I bet that many think of entrepreneurs as of heroes having a super powers, who were lucky to be born with certain personality traits and therefore, they are predestined to succeed in the business. In short: either you have it or not. It is certainly true, that entrepreneurs are more likely to display certain behaviours, interests or capabilities. However, these are not fixed personality traits!

Let’s have a closer look at what research says about entrepreneurs’ characteristics. As found in the paper of Schmitt-Rodermund (2004), entrepreneurs seem to have a high need for achievement, show creativity and initiative, are risk takers and self-confident, are able to control and direct their behaviours, need independence and autonomy, accomplish their tasks with great energy and commitment, and, finally, are persistent in following their aims. Have you noticed any trait, which is absolutely fixed and not possible to develop over time? I have not. Firstly, I would rather identify these characterises as skills or capabilities, which people are willing (or not) to invest in. Secondly, the emphasis should be put on another (different to personality) factor, namely: the right mind-set. The mind-set of being proactive, rather than reactive; of believing that things can be changed; of taking the responsibility of actions; of willingness to grow and learn. Therefore, real entrepreneurs invest in developing habits and skills. According to the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, there are just few simple habits shared by successful people. These include:

   1) Be Proactive: believe you can and just do it!

   2) Begin with the End in Mind: envision what you want to achieve and build steps towards it

   3) Put First Things First: be able to define you priorities and really focus on them

   4) Think Win-Win: you winning does not mean others have to lose; seek for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements

   5) Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: listen carefully to what others insights are, then come with yours

   6) Synergize: you cannot achieve some things alone, look for positive teamwork opportunities

   7) Sharpen the Saw: invest in your own development

Do you want to know more about these habits? Have look at the article by Boyd Biersteker (Part I and Part II).

Finally, I would distinguish one more determinant factor( and more important than personality), and that is entrepreneurial thinking. As Donna De Carolis stated in her article: “being entrepreneurial is essentially about thinking and doing something that we have not done before, in order to achieve a desirable goal or outcome. It is about assessing a situation, designing alternatives, and choosing a new way — or perhaps a combination of ways — that we hope will lead us to something better”. If you want to be an entrepreneur, think like an entrepreneur!

Reconsidering the idea of money

There is a focal question each of us has to answer: what does money really mean to me? There can be many responses, but entrepreneurs share some of them. Firstly, money comes from creating value and bringing solutions to this world. At the same time, money does not come from the fact of spending certain amount of time at the office. Customers will not pay you for your efforts but for the real value you offer. So again, it is value not effort that generates money.

Another refreshing idea comes from a book 4 hours work week  by Tim Ferris. He encourages to think of money in relative, rather than absolute terms. Look at this picture:

4h work week picture

Person on the right side earns 150 000$ a year, working an office job in New York. Person on the left side earns 30 000$ having own online business. Who is richer? The NY one my say, since his yearly income is five times higher. However, consider it carefully once again. The entrepreneur works just 10 h/week, because he was able to outsource or eliminate some of the non-value adding activities. He can do that because he is in charge of how the business operates and what is his working schedule. He earns 58$ per hour instead of 36$, which is the hourly salary of the worker in New York. Who is richer now? Another example: the NY office job person wants to go out for a dinner, paying 200$. Going out for a dinner in NY is expensive and he is bounded with the place he lives in: there is his job. The entrepreneur chooses where he wants to live or to work from, so he chooses to temporarily live in Mexico, and goes for a dinner paying just 20 pesos. This is a very simplified example, but it depicts the terms of thinking about money. You choose what money means for you!

The right relationships

You cannot do much as an entrepreneur alone. You need someone, preferably with complementary skills, to team up with. Who would Steve Jobs be without Steve Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg without Eduardo Saverin, Richard Branson without Nik Powell? It takes a common effort to achieve results (coming back to the synergy habit). Moreover, you have to surround yourself with people who genuinely believe in your ideas and are willing to mentally support you. Reach out for great books, written by people who succeeded in this area. This can serve as a great inspiration. For example, you can have a look at this list. Also, find yourself a mentor, who can guide you on your way. It can be someone who already has own business or has an experience with working at small companies.

What is also important: be among other entrepreneurs. For example, Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship is the place where students, teachers, researchers and entrepreneurs interested in entrepreneurship come together. It works in association with our university. Also, remember that you can get some support from the European Union (EU), have a look here at some options. Moreover, start with an internship for a small start-up and find out if such a work is for you. Lastly, if you want to start business in The Netherlands, there is good news. It is a country with an attractive business climate!

Are you going to be an entrepreneur?

Starting your own business is not the easiest choice to make. It requires a lot of responsibility, determination, effort and sacrifices. But which job does not require that? I am not entirely sure if having own business is really a solution for those who want to work less than 40h a week, since at the early stages of building business one will have to work maybe even more than that. Yet, it is a different kind of work: you build something from the scratches and see it growing, you have the full autonomy of decisions, you manage your time and finally, you put the effort in something, what is fully yours. If you have a feeling like entrepreneurship can be an alternative for an office job, definitely give it a try. The biggest risk is the risk of doing nothing!