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What Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Elon Musk

Neil Powell, cofounder of MugnaciousNeil Powell, cofounder of Mugnacious
Neil Powell, cofounder of MugnaciousPhotograph by Rob Howard Photo

The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you run a startup with a full-time job?” is written by Neil Powell, cofounder of Mugnacious.

“Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s the evergreen, simplistic, and existential answer to the question—balancing a full-time job with a startup you’ve always dreamed of running.

The not-so-simplistic and more realistic scenario? Finding a hobby you can profit off of, live off of, and one that can support your family. It’s about finding a line of work that gives you that “fire” in your belly, the passion project you dream about that will turn you into the next Elon Musk, who most certainly has a demanding professional life. Yet, Musk also spends his spare time running the spaceflight company SpaceX, evident that the balance is possible if you truly enjoy what you’re doing.

Here are a few lessons I recently learned (many the hard way) while working full-time as an artist and starting a company:

You can turn even the most ‘pathetic’ of hobbies into a successful line of business
I learned there’s a need for nearly everything in the world, no matter how pervasive or cliché it may seem. My own startup, which launched earlier this year, comes from a hobby I didn’t even realize was a hobby. Living in New York City for the last 20-plus years, it’s a given that no matter where I am, or what time of day it is, I’m surrounded by a diverse mix of personalities, whether I’m on the subway, at a bar, or at the gym. While most New Yorkers are glued to their phones with ear buds firmly plugged in, I pass my time observing and taking notes in my faithful sketchpad of the absurd conversations and interactions of people around me.

Never did I imagine that the things I idly jotted down in my sketchpad would become profitable until a close friend (who is now my business partner) convinced me to turn the sayings I’ve jotted over the years into an artistic, physical platform. And hey, why not into coffee mugs? People are grumpy in the morning, and when was the last time you saw a coffee mug that brought a chuckle to the most mundane time of day? My business partner and I saw the value of tapping into the coffee mug market. It sounds ridiculous, but despite the ubiquity of coffee mugs, the market is bland. So, why not change that? Whether it’s a personal need or a need in the market, understanding what you’re building is absolutely key.

There is no such thing as overnight success
After months and months of gearing up for the inauguration of our new company, we finally launched in August. We’re up and running, but how do we attract customers? We’ve learned that just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. No matter how innovative your business may be, it’s important to understand the virtue of patience. Startups are incredibly risky, time-consuming, and often daunting. When you are splitting your days between your day job and your side venture, achieving success with the latter of the two can take twice as long. Be prepared to make slow progress, as opposed to turning profits and seeing business boom right away.

Prepare for the challenges and difficult moments
In the bleak and dark days, when you have zero free time and can’t remember the last time you slept more than four hours, it helps to remember what a privilege it is to be creating a business based on your ideals and your creative vision. We all want overnight success. We live in a world of instant gratification. The media sheds light on people who have seemingly obtained it all overnight. That is a fallacy. Here’s a bit of brutal reality: There is no silver bullet. Having instant market success is like winning the lottery. Ever bought a ticket? It’s fun to dream about, but it’s not reality.

As the late and great Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Neil Powell is the cofounder of Mugnacious; an award-winning product designer and a fine artist whose work is in the permanent collection of The Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.