Entrepreneurs / Guest posts

Thinking of starting a business? This founder wants you to be real about how hard it can be

Lying in a hospital bed before emergency surgery in May 2017, Modded Euros cofounder Sean Dawes was forced to ask himself: What's the fuel in my gas tank when I’m running on empty?

Sean Dawes, the day after his emergency GI surgery. (Courtesy photo)

Editor’s note: We’ve written a bunch on the importance of work-life balance, and also what happens when that feels impossible to achieve. (We personally love this Ignite Philly talk on the concept.) This guest essay presents what its author calls a more realistic view of startup life — exhausting by nature, a constantly “on” mindset, relentless work ethic. Disagree with him? We’d love to hear from you, too.

“Excuse me, do you have WiFi here?”

It was one of the first questions I asked as I lay in the fetal position in Abington Hospital’s emergency room in May 2017. I was just told I was going to have emergency GI surgery by morning for what would turn out to be an extremely rare, serious intestinal issue.

Hours prior, I was wrapping up another work week at Modded Euros, the European automotive online retail company I cofounded with Jim Bianco and Nate Edwards, former coworkers over at Turn5.

All too often do we hear about the positive stories of entrepreneurship. Freedom from the dreaded 9-to-5, startups who hit large revenue numbers or the magical exit. But not as often do we hear about what truly happens behind the scenes of that journey to success.

Sure, having a good idea is one ingredient, but everyone has ideas. Yes, you need money, but today you can get early-stage funding from numerous places. The cost of entry is becoming cheaper and cheaper by the day. What actually separates those who succeed long-term and those who fail?

As an entrepreneur, you will be tested throughout the journey — not only from a business standpoint, but personally. There will be days of extreme highs and days of extreme lows. Many entrepreneurs do not like to talk about the dark times; it’s not as cool as the opposite.

Here’s Jim and Nate on our early days:

“In today’s atmosphere, everyone thinks starting a business is sexy,” Jim said. “You better have something more than delusions of grandeur to keep you going. Things will be difficult including managing friends, family and relationships. It’s important to know why you began your journey into being an entrepreneur, without that information it’s going to be difficult to push through when your brain and body are screaming to give up.”

“There are so many misconceptions around owning your own business. Especially early on,” Nate said. “People on the outside think you can do whatever you want when you want. I often tell people, ‘[If you’re] looking to gain 70 pounds, stop having a social life, sleep less and give up a higher-paying job, start a business.’ There were days where I felt like a zombie, only leaving my house to go to Wawa.”

When you finally do get tested, what you do is what defines you.

You will find you not only have to worry about doing the job of 10 people, but you start having to juggle all the other areas of life at the same time. The result of all this added pressure will not only take a toll on you physically, but mentally. When you finally do get tested, what you do is what defines you. It’s not only about how determined you are about your business’ validity in the marketplace. Deep down, it’s about more than your idea.

Lying in the hospital bed that Friday night waiting for test after test made me think. What is my fuel? What drives me? Money is the answer most people may give. But if we look deeper, it never really is just piles of cash people want.

For me, that fuel is my family.

My father at an early age took over the family bar in Kensington. Working 364 days from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. for many years of my childhood led to the best lessons I could have learned. It meant dealing with things not part of that job description: being shot, assaulted, you name it — all to provide for his family. No sick days, no days off.  Despite all the challenges, getting up and going to work the next day because his “why” was more than his “why not” when that alarm went off.

This is the fuel in my gas tank when I’m running on empty. The day I can say, “You never have to worry about dealing with this ever again” to my family is my payoff.

When you find your inner drive — your relentless drive — this is when the shift occurs. Everyone thinks they can be an entrepreneur, but when the time comes, they hit the snooze button. When your mindset shifts from “should” to “I must,” this is when you start moving toward success.

Fail? You bet you will fail. Everyone at Modded Euros makes small failures almost every day. Get tired? You bet you will get tired. But find your inner why, and this is when people want to invest in you. This is when you strike partnerships with people who want to surround themselves with your company.

As Modded Euros successfully evolved out of startup phase years ago, we have not stopped being hungry. Each one of us has been challenged in different ways over the years and we just kept moving forward. Being hungry is a competitive advantage.

Work will beat talent when talent stops working. That night at the hospital, I tapped into what drives me to keep going forward when my body is saying it’s on empty. Find what drives you and get out there and don’t stop moving forward.

Want to share your story or just say hi? Email me at

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