Should I Start a Company? Advice to MBAs Considering Entrepreneurship as a Career Path

October 29. 2013
by Eric Norman

Occasionally people ask me something like: should I start a company? However, this is not really the right question to ask. Entrepreneurship is not a career. It is a burning desire to create. This was eloquently described by the German poet Rilke around 100 years ago to a young student asking whether he should become a writer (just substitute writing for entrepreneurship):

Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. ... Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create.

I had the beginnings of a successful career in large corporate environment; I developed fans who began to praise my work, but I lost patience before fully realizing the opportunity. Partly it was my fault for seeking out the most different country I could find (Japan) and falling in love with it to the detriment of all else. Had I moved to NY, like 90% of my college class and joined an American company that rewarded talent and ability, instead of valuing repetition and mastery, things might have worked out differently. Or so I thought briefly; lately I have come to realize that this would merely have changed the timing—the boredom of incremental innovation would have found me eventually.

Now for the last year, I am part of an incredible team building something from nothing. Will people be ready? Will people want it? We expect it to be criticized, as all novel things are. Some may say it is the rearrangement of the obvious, the fresh coat of paint on the old clunker. Why is beautiful paint bad? We will examine the criticism for merit, make adjustments, and move on. Kaizen is great, but boring. Breakthrough kaizen is sustaining. Does society understand this? Do public markets understand? One may not have a choice as one is forced to seek vast capital, thus needing to meet short-term financial goals.

Working towards a goal--to create--is not work. In the weeks leading up to our first public showing at an established tech conference, I polished my Photoshop skills -- a program I haven’t used since high school -- to modify our graphic designer’s work to show the team my thoughts, as words alone were failing. I learned about the emissivity of physical bodies and the workings of thermal cameras. We explored the theoretical limits of ideal cooking and how people truly want to interact with their cooking appliances, then worked all this into a patent. Then made it visual and logical in a cohesive story of what the product does and why you should find it amazing -- and the MBA helps with this. Yet this did not feel like work. It felt like accomplishments that needed to be brought to life. Like a burning desire to explain ourselves.

Ultimately, we found fellow believers. A woman at the conference exclaimed “This is what I want for Christmas!” and another emailed “Love what you guys are doing! I've literally been looking for something that does what you guys are building for like, 5 years now.”

Which feels amazing and is why you choose entrepreneurship. To create. Because no one else believes in your idea and the world will not know it’s greatness if you don’t do everything in your power to bring it to light. If you are calculating salaries and potential outcomes, as MBAs are wont to do, you would likely be miserable. It is not a constantly increasing plateau of achievement. It is violently binary and the struggles must make you believe more. If you analyze the problem thoroughly, your NPV will be zero and you will not proceed. So your calling is for other reasons. The desire to build. The need for freedom.

Eric Norman managed automobile development projects at the global HQ of Toyota Motor in rural Japan. After Rady, he became consumed with developing smart cooking appliances and founded Palate Home to bring that vision to life.