It’s hard being an Entrepreneur – UCE makes it a little easier

19 December 2018

The excitement of becoming an entrepreneur can full you with enthusiasm. Focusing on the opportunities and creating your own business is incredibly fun! Like all things in life, this embryonic stage is the most crucial and mistakes made here can have serious ramifications as your business develops.

  • UCE Graham Dockrill speaking

    UCE's Entrepreneur in Residence, Graham Dockrill, presenting to summer students.

UCE Graham Dockrill headshot

Adjunct Associate Professor and Entrepreneur in Residence at UC's Centre for Entrepreneurship, Graham Dockrill.

Starting a business is exciting and challenging, however there are many obstacles to overcome when first starting out on your journey. During the February 2017 year, 65,930 new enterprises started operation in New Zealand and 57,500 enterprises ceased operation during the same period. Many businesses don’t make it past their first year.

UC Centre for Entrepreneurship’s (UCE) EY Summer Startup Programme allows students to learn ‘beyond the textbook’. The UCE EY Summer Startup Programme is an opportunity for students to fast-track their commercial or social enterprise venture into reality by working on it full-time for ten weeks over the summer period. Creating real businesses with real customers, and the potential to make money along the way.

The first step on this journey is the Lean Business Model methodology of validation. Have you got an idea that somebody wants to buy?  An idea with no customers is just an idea, it’s only when someone sees value in what you offer and is willing to pay for it that you have a business.

Mentoring plays a critical part in any business success, whether you’re Arianna Huffington, Sara Blakely, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, everybody has mentors. UCE works alongside some of the best entrepreneurs in New Zealand, sharing their experiences and highlighting what is involved in starting a new venture, formulating what it takes to be an entrepreneur and destroying some myths along the way.

Topics covered include:

  1. Defining and validating the problem, pain or unmet need
  2. Understanding and talking to your customer
  3. Minimum viable product definition and development
  4. Routes to market
  5. Revenue and Cost structures
  6. Intellectual property options
  7. Team building and management

One of the biggest take-outs I’ve observed as ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ is the topics that aren’t covered, but which are shared and instilled into the programme through its engagement with the business community.  These topics you can only learn from other entrepreneurs, that have been there, done it and felt the pain.

Quitting your day Job – No going back

If you’re serious about being a full-time entrepreneur you’re going to have to give up your day job (and your nights). Your career path changes once you’ve crossed that path from employee to employer. Entrepreneurs joke that you become unemployable once you’ve made that decision. This is true, once you give up the security and comfort of your current career, there’s very few that turn back.

Financial Risk - You’re going to be poor for a long time

You will be putting your money, possibly your house and pretty much everything else you own on the line. You will experience being ‘nearly broke’ many times in your business career and be putting your wages on hold until the company starts turning a profit.

Working harder than you ever have

Many entrepreneurs have heard the phrase, “You’re an overnight success.” My response “Yes, nearly 20 years of overnights, a lot of them sleepless.” You’re going to be working hard, very hard. 

Uncertainty – Embrace it

Your idea could make you a millionaire, or maybe even a billionaire! Or, it could put you in debt for a decade. Uncertainty is one of the biggest stresses a business owner faces. You need to learn to not only manage the stresses of uncertainty, but embrace it.

Decision making – It’s really hard

Every decision you make in business is brutal in its outcome. It’s either good, bad, right or wrong. Rarely are any decisions just ok, and that’s a hard burden to bear. As the saying goes, “There are no ‘pretty good’ alligator wrestlers.” 

Ideas are great – They also suck

As soon as you launch your idea or even prior you will need to pivot, change and adapt.  While you think you have the perfect solution, the market ultimately tells you what direction to head in. Seeing the flaws in your unique offering and wonderful idea can be incredibly unsettling.   

Data doesn’t lie – It confuses you

During my entrepreneurial career, I’ve had some customers that have loved me, and some that have hated me. Some have believed in my offering and been loyal customers for twenty years, others have never seen any value, and see no point engaging with me. What do you do… these contradictions are common, and maddening! 

Dealing with forces outside your control – Pretty much everything

While the above heading is a little tongue in cheek, there are just some things that are outside your control.  If you let them, they will destroy you.  You’ll learn quickly that you can’t change these things, you adapt, pivot and adjust quickly with decisiveness. 

Being an entrepreneur can be stressful and often lonely. It can feel that what you experience above is yours and yours alone. The more time you spend with entrepreneurs, the easier these issues will become. As your business maturity evolves, some of these challenges will go away organically, some will become easier to deal with and some will never go away, you just learn to live with it.

UCE goes well beyond the textbook -- with the support of an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, it allows you to muscle through the early stages and never lose sight of your final goals.

Graham Dockrill is an expert ‘sniper salesman’ specialising in the alignment of strategy and sales. He draws on over 20 years of selling experience in various global markets to develop strategies that deliver results and achieve success for his clients. A sought-after business strategist, investor and entrepreneur, Graham is Adjunct Associate Professor and Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Entrepreneurship. Graham is also the founder of Citrus Tree Consultants.

For further information please contact:

UC Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) by emailing

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