Thinking of Starting a Business? Start Here

  • The founder of a Chicago fast casual shares his tips to get out of the cubicle and into the entrepreneurial game.

    Square Roots
    While being your own boss is enticing, it is certainly not easy.

    Have you ever looked around at work and thought, “What am I doing here?” According to the Kauffman Index, an annual report on entrepreneurship, you’re not alone. In 2016, Kauffman reported that roughly 540,000 adults shifted into self-employed business ownership each month. Data shows that the U.S. entrepreneur is making a comeback; entrepreneurship levels are on the rise, at levels not seen since before 2008. If you’re considering taking the leap from your current career into unchartered entrepreneurial waters, there are some tips to help keep you afloat in your first years.

    How do you know it’s time to leave?

    If you’re sitting in a cubicle waiting for a sign that it’s time to leave your job, then you’ll be waiting for a while. Waiting on an ‘ah-ha’ moment can be stagnating. We complain about managers, clients, coworkers, but rarely do these gripes result in us leaving. The fear of failure often keeps us in complacency, especially when it comes to our careers. If you were in the job market during the recession, then you’re probably a bit wary about leaving a job.

    It’s important to evaluate your situation and not put on blinders. What is the opportunity cost that you’re giving up? What is the value in being your own boss? If it’s a fair trade, it’s an easy choice, but entrepreneurs typically make a lot of sacrifices. For example, if you’re making $100,000 a year, it would certainly be hard to give up your income for a startup role paying half that. Do you hate your job enough? Does it eat you up every morning? Is the pay cut worth it to control your own destiny? Each individual needs to figure out what that value is to them and then decide if pursuing entrepreneurship is worth the immediate risk to becoming something greater.

    The hardest part about making the transition from a salaried position to entrepreneurship is uncertainty. So, if there’s any moment closest to a perfect ‘ah-ha’ it would have to be getting let go from a job. For a prospective entrepreneur, a severance package can be a godsend for someone looking at starting their own business. More often than not, entrepreneurs go for some period of time without writing themselves a paycheck. Even a year can feel like an eternity when you’re not getting paid. If you’re fortunate enough to receive a severance package from your company it can relieve some financial stress as you start your venture.

    Know the market and your target 

    The key to knowing your audience is to interact with them. It is the only way to get real, organic feedback. Test groups aren’t the best reflection of how people really feel about your business so interacting within the market is key. In introducing a good or service, if people return it, complain or offer criticism, this feedback is invaluable. Take this constructively and improve yourself to be a better fit for the market. Accepting failure is a humbling and necessary aspect of starting your own business. Everything else, even if well founded or thought out, is just an assumption until true customer or client interaction occurs. 

    Thinking about hiring? Don’t forget your worst boss

    Remember that manager who made your life a living hell? Don’t be that person. It’s easy to get caught up being the new boss, especially if you don’t have experience in management. It’s one thing to know your business, it’s another to manage people. Remember that your employees are a direct reflection of you and more importantly- your new business. They hold your company’s success in their hands. Give them the tools they need to be successful. When employees feel fulfilled, everyone is happy. As much as corporate America rewards the specialist, being the CEO means you have to be a jack of all trades. It’s important for you to be literate in a variety of competencies to best manage your company as a whole.

    While being your own boss is enticing, it is certainly not easy. Evaluate your financial situation, obviously, but look at yourself from an objective position. Are you a hard worker by nature? Is your venture your passion? Does it make you want to get out of bed every morning? If you can answer yes, then make it happen.

    Derin Alemli graduated from University of Chicago Booth School of Business and entered the asset management realm. After finding success in hedge funds, Derin chose to start his own business, Down Beats. Down Beats was, and continues to be, a great success for Derin. Because of this, he went on to open a catering business, Square Roots Kitchen, in 2015. Square Roots flourished eventually leading Derin to the idea of opening a storefront. Partnering with a friend and fellow entrepreneur, Jason White, Derin will be debuting their high-tech, fast casual storefront in Chicago’s West Loop.