Feb 13, 2023 | Starting a Business

What surprises entrepreneurs about starting a business?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
When you talk to new entrepreneurs, what surprises them about starting a business?
New entrepreneurs mention quite a few negative surprises, but the thing that surprises them the most is a big positive surprise. Research has shown that human beings have a “negativity bias,” or a tendency to focus more strongly on negative experiences and stimuli than on equally strong positive experiences and stimuli (Cacioppo, Gardner, & Berntson, 1997; Delplanque et. al., 2005; Huang & Luo, 2009). So, it makes sense that new entrepreneurs focus on some negative surprises:

Administrative Tasks
Entrepreneurs typically start a business in a field that they understand well, so they aren’t usually surprised by the work of delivering their product or service. They already know what to expect there. What does surprise them is all of the administrative work of running a business. The tasks they like the least are the important tasks (like invoicing) that must happen but aren’t especially fun. Entrepreneurs who have resources tend to outsource these tasks, so they don’t have to spend too much time on them.

Figuring Things Out
For an entrepreneur, every day introduces a new challenge; they are surprised to find themselves outside their comfort zone so often. They need to figure things out in areas where they have no expertise (such as marketing or business development), and that can feel like a distraction from the main task of delivering their offering.

Always on Call
When the business provides a service, the entrepreneur can feel “always on call.” It can be challenging to set boundaries with demanding and valuable customers. Entrepreneurs report surprise that it is so hard to take vacations, or even to enjoy the downtime that they do schedule.

Difficulty Staying the Course
New entrepreneurs report surprise that they have so much trouble remaining patient. If their first effort at marketing doesn’t work right away, they may have a tendency to abandon it and follow a new idea. They often fear financial failure, and this can make it difficult to stay the course while the business builds.

Solopreneurs, in particular, have a tendency to do everything themselves, in order to keep their costs down. This can lead to difficulty prioritizing – since everything feels important – and eventually to burnout. Entrepreneurs may also have a tendency to compare themselves to larger businesses and feel that they are behind. Entrepreneurs report surprise at their level of exhaustion and anxiety.

Despite these negative surprises, entrepreneurs report a high degree of job satisfaction. Indeed, several research studies conclude that entrepreneurs are more satisfied with their roles than employees are with their jobs (Thompson, 1992; Katz, 1993; Hundley, 2001). Perhaps this is because they receive a great deal of appreciation for their work. The big positive surprise that delights entrepreneurs is that their customers depend on them and tell them so. Entrepreneurs report that they hear on a regular basis that their work is invaluable – and they have the respect and authority that proves it. So, despite some negative surprises, the entrepreneurs we work with love their work and can’t imagine going back.




Cacioppo, J. T., Gardner, W. L., & Berntson, G. G. (1997). Beyond bipolar conceptualizations and measures: The case of attitudes and evaluative space. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1(1), 3–25. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327957pspr0101_2
Delplanque, S., Silvert, L., Hot, P., & Sequeira, H. (2005). Event-related P3a and P3b in response to unpredictable emotional stimuli. Biological Psychology, 68(2), 107-120. Retrieved on February 12, 2023, from https://www.unige.ch/fapse/e3lab/files/5415/4073/7126/Delplanque_2005_BioPsy.pdf
Huang, Y. X., & Luo, Y. J. (2006). Temporal course of emotional negativity bias: an ERP study. Neuroscience Letters, 398(1-2), 91-96. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2005.12.074
Hundley, G. (2001). Why and when are the self-employed more satisfied with their work? Industrial Relations, 40(2), 293–316. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/0019-8676.00209
Katz, J. A. (1993). How satisfied are the self-employed: A secondary analysis approach. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 17(3), 35–50. Retrieved on February 12, 2023, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-011-9269-3
Thompson, C. A., Kopelman, R. E., & Schriescheim, C. A. (1992). Putting all eggs in one basket: A comparison of commitment and satisfaction among self and organizationally employed men. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(5), 738–743. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.77.5.738


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