7 challenges the one billion Necessity Entrepreneurs have to overcome every day
An old fact becoming a trend on the background of labour market changes.
Necessity entrepreneurs are individuals who start small enterprises out of necessity. While they range from street sellers to educated hopefuls with little access to formal employment, the one thing that unites them is the need to survive. An estimated one billion individuals in both developed and developing nations can be defined as necessity entrepreneurs; individuals who have no other viable option for licit income than to start a small, income-generating activity. However, unless these ‘necessity entrepreneurs’ have access to meaningful education, they will never realize the powerful, economic potential to impact the economic development of their respective nations. (Source quoted: Necessity Entrepreneurs – Microenterprise Education and Economic Development, Edward Elgar Publishing)
After lifetime on my own, a list of failures under my potential and a few achievements above my condition, I can say that I live just to beat the odds and stats. I always counted myself among the one billion necessity entrepreneurs having no other choice but innovating their way out of daily crisis. I don’t know if we were so many at the time of my beginnings or if I knew we also have a label. People living in poor and emergent countries are more familiar with the pushing force of basic necessities.
Against my will, entrepreneurship became my nature. To make it work in my favour at all times, I’ve spent my life learning how to transform this nature into my core skill, into my operating instrument, how to turn myself into a ‘weapon’.
This is my 7 challenges list. I know that as a nano, micro or small entrepreneur you will understand it very well. I made it both for people like us and for youngsters who flirt with entrepreneurship as a way of life, to better understand it, so they can be better prepared.
#1 IDENTITY CRISIS. A FRESH ONE WITH EVERY NEW DAY.
A challenge like no other in the life of a necessity entrepreneur.
When you find yourself at the bottom of the Pyramid of Needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), survival comes first and notions like identity are not even themes on your agenda. When your nano-business goes down the hill, identity becomes a hyper-issue and it is exactly this particular aspect of yourself that makes it or break it.
Your continuity depends tremendously on refining your identity, on delivering to your mirror a clear answer to the question ‘Who am I?’
Until the point of your first inevitable failure you were a entrepreneur. But you never knew you were a nano one. You always believed you were special or at least a little bit bigger than a dot. Your entire life depended on being a good enough surviving performer, so your identity was entirely wrapped around that. Around being good enough.
Your everyday life was defined by working hard, creatively and passionately to cover your and your family basic needs and you dreamt that one day you’ll finally be able to grow and access the next level: micro. Small, medium and big are notions for which you need binoculars to see when looking at horizon.
In my case, the only next level that followed was a few levels down in the underground. Shit hit the fan and here I was, going down and down while seeing my nano business and my whole life turning into nothing. Ten years vanished in a moment leaving behind a black hole.
Without my work and my life, I didn’t know who I was. For the first time this question mattered in a vital way.
Still, when it comes to small entrepreneurs and business owners, less than 10% survive their first year. I was celebrating 10 years of surviving. In the nano and micro zones, the stats and odds are almost invisible. Looking from this angle, I was a huge success. But I was also terrified: if people like me, reasonably educated have such small chances, what are the odds for others to survive? How kind of life do those people have?
That particular question catalyzed a change of heart. I did not want to do business anymore, I wanted to do social business. To use my nature as a skill to create change, good one hopefully.
Being left naked in the world in the midst of 2007/2008 world crisis, I had no clue what to do…with life, with me.
People were keep asking: but what would you like to do? And that was a question that made me feel even more isolated in my struggle, even more frustrated, unheard, unseen.
My life was never about what I like to do, but about doing whatever necessary to stay alive. I’ve never afforded the luxury to discover and explore my passions, I didn’t even know what I liked, and after enough years of struggling so hard to keep my head above the water, I began to forget everything about such thoughts.
The only reasonable option seemed to be learning how to love whatever there is I have to do. To turn everything life pushes me to do into a passion.
My education as an Economist (a thing that makes me an ‘educated hopeful’ according to scholars who spend their lives observing and writing studies about world’s facts) was of great help in my case, as it made me realize that my only shot is to innovate my way out. If the world is in crisis, then all players have to do the same regardless their size. Let’s place myself out there, so we can innovate together and let’s hope that by solving enough problems for enough players, at some point I’ll be able to turn my life around. And let’s also hope that my Romanian IP and all international restrictions for my country (from payments to having access to all sorts of platforms, including hiring ones from abroad) won’t stay in my way. That was all I could think of.
There were a lot of restrictions I needed to find solutions for. Then again I was terrified. If a country like mine, still peaceful, meets so many barriers even in the online, then how people from more sensible countries can multiply their chances, their opportunities? Looking at it from this perspective, I realized my privilege is still more generous than many more others.
Questions like that shaped my awareness brick by brick and automatically, my identity became to crystalize itself.
So, for ten years I wore the hat of a problem solver in the open innovation marketplace, a realm you can access through crowdsourcing venues. Here, I designed solutions for all types of organizations coming from a variety of industries, from big corporations to nonprofit ones and governments. It is a meritocracy based realm and I found myself a place in it, but also a reasonable source of revenues. I developed many solutions and 7 of them were awarded and brought me a ticket for tomorrow. This is a very wild place where only the best live. Fortunately, I’ve been the best enough times to push my life forward, to hang on.
In parallel, I said Yes to any work opportunity, most of it freelancing work coming from film and tv productions, ending up being specialised enough to be able to thrive also in this industry with things like: producing, shooting, video editing, screenwriting, managing a production, and so on. The reason for this is a sort of luck that occurred, as I’ve been hired in major productions and in key roles. I guess that besides my skills, my trusting face born from my reputation as a person with ethics and some genetics paid off.
At some point I also ended up as a general manager and one of the co-founders of an innovation cluster in my country. It lasted 6 months and the only reason it didn’t work out was timing and culture incompatibility. They were too far in the past and in my present I did not have the time and the resources to wait for them. Our worlds collided and I had to give up on that. I could not survive in a world that no longer exists, so I had to extract myself out of there as soon as possible. Anyway, I am still wondering at times: in the case of a better match and synchronicity, wouldn’t we have turned a lot of things around in our country? Maybe I should have been wiser, who knows?
Breaking my identity challenge down, it was all about being loyal to my inner callings and about opposing resistance to toxic behaviours, regardless the consequences. That’s probably the definition of a rebel. A partner in crime in challenging times, a trouble maker or just a pain in the ass. Whatever you label it, that’s it.
Struggling constantly between surviving and accomplishing your dreams challenges your identity at all moments.
The hardest moments of all are those when you start forgetting your dreams. Remembering is a challenge.
#2 HUMBLENESS IN DAILY GENEROUS DOSES
A feeling that any necessity entrepreneur tastes at least once a day.
Being a nano entity with big visions and bold action capabilities makes life very difficult, firstly because you daily realise how small you are and how far from the marketed normality your life is. You have never imagined that you were going to fight so hard, to work and to learn so much just to be able to hang on at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid. Noone and nothing prepared you for that and there’s no instruction manual coming with this package.
The contrast between your spiritual and emotional intelligence, your capabilities and potential, and your daily struggles to cover the basic necessities of life is something very hard to understand for people who haven’t walked a day on this pathway.
The strength of your identity is the only thing that keeps you on track and the only thing that keeps your faith together.
As someone said in an article regarding solopreneurs ‘The life of a solopreneur is not for anyone. It takes an iron stomach and a clear head to pull off this kind of self-brutalization and insane risk.’
Contemplating about it, I realized the author doesn’t really understands what is he talking about because he says it as if it is a choice. It’s the other way around: we are solopreneurs because there is no other way. At this level, you are on your own. And like wild animals living in jungle, wilderness became our nature, the reason we cannot do normal jobs anymore or the reason we are not hired for ordinary tasks, seldom when that happens.
People walking on this pathway are wired differently. At our best we can only challenge you, we can only challenge convention. And we don’t do it to piss you off, but because it is the unconventional we are coming from. We all know that’s very rare the case when decision makers look for this breed of people, people who make them constantly leave their comfort and familiar zones.
Necessity entrepreneurs are very small people understanding the mechanism of humans and life very well. They know the trees by looking from their bottom, seldom from above. We are on our own, everyday at the mercy of God. There are no saviours in this side of the world. The only thing there is, it’s the unknown, the unpredictable and the unexpected.
#3 ISOLATION AS LIFESTYLE
The monster who challenges the commitment, faith and love for life of any necessity entrepreneur.
Anyone who lived a day as an entrepreneur tasted the isolation feelings. When you are upper on the pyramid it is milder, at the bottom of it, it gets intense. You live in an invisible cage, much smaller than the conventional ones.
You don’t spend your money on vacations, clubbing and other forms of entertainment because you never have ‘extra money’ and ‘free time’. Any penny you make you invest in your learning, in diversifying your skills and in creating new revenues activities or uplifting the existing ones.
You cannot afford to take days off because if you do, you go down instantly. You watch from distance your friends having fun and enjoying life. You learn to turn frustrations into fuel and passion because there is no other way. Your only entertainment is building your life and ways out. And you have to fall in love with this process, otherwise it will break you.
Of course, you hold on to the hope that one day, if you manage to connect enough dots, to help enough people and organizations, to hang on enough time, you will manage to turn your life around. To some it happens, to some it never happens. That’s the truth.
You need a patience and faith of steel, things you lose and win every day. There is no guarantee for none of the things you do and hope for. You just live your life believing.
#4 RELATIONSHIPS AS CONSTANT ASPIRATION
A proposition crowded with ‘fill in the blanks’ spaces in the lives of entrepreneurs.
Your relationships are inexistent, virtual or difficult, if your partner is not coming from the doctors or filmmakers worlds, or from yours. In both cases, they are unusual relationships or at least very different from what people dream or see in movies, and of what you dreamt when you were a teenager, from what is advertised out there in the market. Still, if serious, they are very strong and resilient relationships.
Many people from this side of world understand very well the escorts role in society, as in many cases that’s the only clean and fair enough cut option available. You get rid of loads of preconceptions while walking on this pathway.
Finding a partner who is strong enough and consciously willing to join you in such struggle is a matter of miracle. The temperatures are extreme, so very few people resist to such a life. Then there are so the proud strugglers , great people who choose to walk alone until they can afford a relationship. These ones often end up alone, as it make take a lifetime or never to reach such heights.
The only tomorrow you can see for yourself is the one you build. If you don’t build a good enough one, then it will be a very difficult day. And you never know how good you were or how inspired until the sun rises again. It’s hard for a relationship to survive on such capricious fields, and it takes both partners a kind of wisdom, patience and practice hard to hold on to.
#5 HEALTH. A CHAPTER WHERE SMART ADVICE NEVER WORKS.
Health at the bottom of the Pyramid of needs is a chapter where no smart advice works, so you have to invent your own algorithm. Usually, that’s one that science hasn’t approved yet, reason for which everyone wonders how the hell you survive.
The advice you read all over about fitness, diets and sleep for a great healthcare has no power in your case.
You are in continuous movement and under continuous stress and pressure. Many times you cannot afford fresh or quality food and you take the best from what you can afford. Many times you don’t have energy left in your bones to exercise. Your entire energy and focus is on surviving mode.
While people die if they don’t sleep, you die if you sleep. In your case, there is not enough time. Your sleeping time stands in your way, as you know there’ll be a very shitty or no tomorrow, if you don’t push and push and push.
Of course, you get vulnerable. You know it. You also know you’ll need to pay the price when time comes. Don’t we all, anyway? The best you can do here is to learn how to hack your body system, to learn together how to adapt. So, you need to pay a lot of attention to your body reactions, to be aware of yourself as much as possible and figure out ways to integrate best teachings in your context.
Health is vital and it’s a challenge to keep it in reasonable shape.
Without you there is not such thing as your life. On the other hand, without you pushing as hard as you can, there is no life anyway, at least not one you wish to live. Finding a balance point in this paradox is another challenge, if not an art.
#6 SHADOWS. THE REALM YOU ARE LIVING IN.
We are like superheroes. Born and thriving in the shadows.
When I hear spiritual gurus and therapists telling you “we need to work with your shadows”, I don’t understand what these people are talking about. Shadows are my home. It is where I was born. I don’t need healing, I only need basic security. Let’s solve that first and we’ll see about other shadows later.
Necessity entrepreneurs live very close to the underground. They live at the doors between hell and shadows. Heaven is just a notion they read about in books or see at times in movies. With God is another story. God spends a lot of time in the shadows. Because of that, because of the beauty, humanity and miracles you often witness there, you almost forget why you want to run from it.
Necessity entrepreneurs fall in the underground many times. It’s like sailing in a water full of sharks while you keep your feet in the water because the ship is too tiny. At any time, a shark or more can go out from the bottom of the ocean and drag you down. And many times, they do get out.
We live among law breakers, nutters and all sorts of other violent, devious and deviant creatures. Their density it’s quite much around here. Our familiarity with them makes us less fearful of dangers, thing that usually reflects in dysfunctional or toxic relationships we experience, a realm where we don’t have too much experience anyway and another challenge, one that demands to fight and win the war against the creatures who lives inside you.
That’s a one of a hell fight, one that brings you back over and over to No 1 challenge: identity.
#7 SPARTAN IS YOUR MIDDLE NAME
Resilience is our uniform. Monkeys for the privileged, bliss for our tribe.
The more privileged ones, in case you ever made it to the gates of their world, usually love to have your company around. You remind them about simplicity of life and its beauty, you look so alive regardless of how you feel and you are a breath of fresh air to them. These people usually live in bubbles, places where they have their own challenges, but also places where many necessity entrepreneurs aim to be. Places upper on the Pyramid of needs.
I once wanted that, too. I don’t know why, because I’ve never been there. My family (the one before my parents) was there, as we come from a wealthy one. But after communists confiscated their life and fortune, they ended up like everyone else, struggling to reach tomorrow. My father managed to rise above those loses after the fall of communism and ended up making a lot of money and recovering a big part of the lost family fortune. Unfortunately, his spirit was already broken and he lost it all to his addictions, confusions and inner conflicts, or left it all in a stage we cannot afford to use it.
In the meantime, after falling and bouncing back from the underground too many times, I learnt to accept my condition, to take what life offers me, to get up in the trains that come in my station, and to play my cards the best I can.
As a ‘spartan’, I am straight forward, I piss people off, my manners are not fancy, I haven’t seen too many places in the world, I fight back when attacked or threatened, I voice the hidden feelings of people – a thing that brings me love and hate at the same time, I eat fast, I laugh loud, I am curious, I dress with whatever there is, and I don’t care what other people think about me. A country girl by many interpretations.
My life philosophy breaks down to giving Caesar what’s Caesar’s, not more and not less, a thing that continuously challenges my virtues, emotions, identity and clarity. This approach of life assured my survival.
What are your challenges? And what would you say to youngsters dreaming to become entrepreneurs?