I started Patriot Software in 1986. It has grown into a fast-paced Saas company that offers full service payroll, cash basis accounting software, and HR software add-ons, but it was nothing fancy back then. When I started my business, it was just me, my fragile little business idea, and the space I could clear around my fixer-upper house. You’d think I would have stopped and really asked myself, “Should I start my own business?” at some point.
I didn’t even have a business card.
I kept my day job as a Systems Programmer, but my title should have been Corporate Cog because that’s what it felt like. I did good work and was compensated well, but I was still a cog, unfulfilled, spinning endlessly in a sea of cogs.
It wasn’t until I came home at night to my tiny entrepreneur kingdom that I felt like something more. It didn’t matter that the edges of my kingdom stopped at the property line, or that I had no subjects to command. I was still the boss, a feeling so empowering that keeping it for as long as I could quickly became my number one priority.
Some people feel led to do things in life. Me, I was born to be an entrepreneur. It was never a question of, “should I start my own business?” but instead, “WHEN should I start my own business?” I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to run my own operation. My family and friends, on the other hand, had nothing but doubt.
Opposition to Starting Your Own Business
The first man I went to with my grand business plan was my business mentor, personal hero, and proven entrepreneur: my dad, Harry Kappel.
“You’re crazy.” That’s Harry, a straight-talking man with a legitimate genius level IQ. Hearing him call me crazy was a total punch in the gut.
“Michael, you’re a man now! You have a house and mortgage. You’re about to be married. You have responsibilities. You will be the head of a household that’s already in shambles. What if your new wife gets pregnant?”
The questions kept coming. “What if you run out of money? What if this is a complete disaster? What if the economy tanks or the FCC changes the game again?” What if, what if, what if?
I had thought of these things, of course. Just inside my head, as spoken by my inner monologue: a pure and confident voice of indomitable positivity. There, safe in my head, my grand plans were always going to work. But out in the real world, under the scrutiny of family, friends, and business heroes, I wasn’t so sure…
This was the first major test every entrepreneur faces: criticism, skepticism, and doubt that you have what it takes to be a successful business owner. As a matter of fact, in the business world, where things can change at a moments notice, there is one certainty you can rely on: people are going to tell you your small business dreams are nuts, and you shouldn’t chase them.
They’ll give you every reason under the sun; “You don’t have the money. You don’t have the time. You have other responsibilities, aren’t qualified, and your idea is no good.” On it will go until you shatter your dream and resign yourself to being a good little corporate cog. And if you think the sentiment will only come from experts and consultants, think again. It will come from everywhere, even the people who care about you most– especially the people who care about you most.
Step 1 of Starting a New Business: Trust Yourself
My dad cared about my success more than anyone, so it should come as no surprise that his criticism was the harshest. While it was hard to hear everyone else’s objections, his were the only ones that made me genuinely consider quitting. It was a gut check, and it proved to be one of the most valuable business lessons I’ve learned: how to trust myself.
I knew there was a market for my computers; I knew I could turn a profit if I dedicated myself to my business, and I knew I wanted to keep being the boss. In the end, however, it was what I knew about my dad that drove me to keep going.
All dads are critical of their children’s risky ideas, and quitting a well-paying job so you can spread computer guts around your living room weeks before your wedding is pretty risky. But I wasn’t the first man in the Kappel family to take risks. When my dad was close to my age, he started his own plastics business, ran out of cash, and wound up forced to sell, all while he had a wife and four kids to feed.
No one starved. We kids grew up fine, supported, loved, and provided for. I’m sure dad was met with doubt and skepticism when he announced he was starting his business, but I can’t ever remember doubting his ability to take care of us. I knew he didn’t want to see his son go through rough times chasing a dream that isn’t easy to catch, but all his critiques couldn’t overshadow the brave, driven life he led–the life that made him my hero and mentor in the first place.
The world is full of naysayers. Some are obvious. Others might just be the people you thought would support you most. Many of them just don’t want you to get hurt. This is the time when you must learn how to trust yourself and separate what will help you succeed from what is only going to hold you back.
Success Benchmarks for Your Business Start Up
Success for a small business owner can mean a lot of things, from turning a profit, to being your own boss, to seeing the product you invented come to market. But the one thing success should mean for all entrepreneurs is living the life you want to live. Think about it, you’re here, right now, reading this because you want to know if you should chase your dream. Something is calling you, just like it called me. It’s that thing that lets you endure being called crazy; the thing that keeps you up well into the night, joyfully sleep deprived. It’s the thing that makes you want to break out of the safe, steady corporate machine and be your own boss. I felt it, and I had to follow it because I knew I wouldn’t be happy chasing anyone else’s dream but my own.
I’m glad I did. Twenty-nine years later I’m the CEO of a multi-million dollar online accounting and payroll company, Patriot Software. I’ve provided for a family, made my dad proud, and lived an incredible, blessed life.
If you have a dream of starting your own business, learn from my experience. Seek the advice of smarter, more experienced people.Learn to decipher the good input from the bad. Trust yourself, push yourself, and always remember: you can do this.