“How do you make it as an entrepreneur” is a common question heard at schools across the country. There are so many brilliant ideas, so many useful companies – but once you decide to take that plunge and start out on your own, how do you make it work?
In part 1 of this two-part blog series, Ben Attal, Co-founder of Nimbus Learning, talks to us about how he manages to thrive both in his work and personal life as an entrepreneur in his 20’s.
Read part 2 here.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, to be honest, I think I always knew that I like to work and that I wanted to kind of work in in a variety of different fields and learn as much as possible. I got my first job when I was 12 or 13, and then always had jobs through middle school and high school. I was fortunate enough to do quite a few different things. As a coach, as a counsellor, I worked in a restaurant as a cook and a waiter.
I didn’t necessarily think I have to be the boss or I have to be the one coming up with the idea. That’s kind of reflected in some ways in my, quote unquote entrepreneur style as well. I wasn’t the person who came up with Nimbus, I also wasn’t the person who came up with some of the other projects that I’m doing, but what I’m good at is coming into the team and operationalizing things, making sure that things just go according to plan and that there is a plan underlying that structure.
I really do enjoy this ability to be creative and have ideas and impact things in a way; I’ve no plans to turn back. But [when I started] I didn’t see myself as someone who has to be an entrepreneur, but it is something that I am definitely enjoying.
There’s so much pressure to have our lives planned out as soon as we get into college, but you don’t have to have it all figured out right away.
Exactly, absolutely. And just to build on that as well and if you look at how I started with Nimbus, I think that’s an important thing too. You don’t have to be, in a sense, the CEO to end up being an entrepreneur and I think that’s something that sometimes gets ignored. People need partners to build businesses, to build organizations and in early stage companies and organizations that you align with, if you work your ass off and really kind of grow into that position, you become an entrepreneur by virtue of helping that company grow. You don’t necessarily have to set out as one.
When I started with Nimbus, Will had a small team. It was all kind of student volunteers at the time, the development team, himself, and then a couple of people who were doing marketing. I joined the team just being like, look, I really like what you guys are doing, I will hustle as much as possible to make sure that this is successful at McGill’s campus. For the first four months I was doing 10 class announcements a day, handing out 1000s of flyers. I wasn’t an entrepreneur in the sense at that point, but just through the trust and the relationship that I built with Will, understanding that we were aligned in a lot of things, there was a respect there to appreciate and respect each other’s ideas. And so, I became a co-founder of Nimbus.
”People need partners to build businesses, to build organizations. In early stage companies and organizations that you align with, if you work your ass off and really kind of grow into that position, you become an entrepreneur by virtue of helping that company grow.Ben AttalCo-founder of Nimbus Learning
Now that you’re here, what do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
There are a lot of things. If I had to pick one, it’s the diversity of experience that I get on a consistent basis. You’re never bored, right? There are many things that can be stressful, that can be overwhelming, whatever, but there’s always something new. Nimbus is also in a constant state of evolution. When you’re working in a big company, obviously, things are changing day to day but you’re talking about a company going from, let’s say $100 million in revenue to $105 million. And so it’s a 5% increase, and I think that kind of trickles down, but the company probably only changed as a total 5% in that time and so you don’t feel it in the in the scale of your own life. Whereas with the startup, going from 100k to 200k revenue, the whole landscape shifts. We went from having four people on the team, to 10, then to 12 people on the team. Just as that happens, not only are you having new experiences from a work perspective, but you’re having new relationships with people, you’re learning how to be a better leader and, hopefully, partner to all these new people on the team. And I think that’s kind of the most exciting thing: that you can feel the changes not only in terms of external impact, but also internally under the team. It’s really a kind of an act of change that you can recognize on a day to day basis.
It must be super rewarding to make these choices and then see the massive impact they have.
Absolutely. That’s a good kind of add on point: it’s not only that you are doing different things all the time, but you feel the kind of decisions that you make change the things around you, or hopefully change the things around us as a team. That’s definitely a big part of it, that you can feel how different things are. Even on a more micro level, the tasks that I’m doing are generally very different from day to day.
Is that ever unnerving – how quickly things change?
Yeah. Early on, especially, that unnerving feeling of being like, “Am I ready for this? Is this going to be okay? Are these changes going to be for the better or for the worse?” I think that I did, at some point, start to separate the kind of value that I associate to Nimbus with the value that I associate with myself. And so, the unnervingness became a part of work, which almost makes it exciting. And yes, you’re not sure, yes, there’s uncertainty. But you still know that if it were to fail, you’re okay with your own value. I think that was an important lesson for me that wasn’t always the case. In the hustle culture that start-ups typically exist in, there’s almost this idea that you have to associate yourself fully to the company, whether it’s value, time, all that kind of thing. Once I was able to move away from that a little bit, that feeling of uncertainty transitioned from kind of a fear to a challenge.
”In the hustle culture that start-ups typically exist in, there's almost this idea that you have to associate yourself fully to the company, whether it's value, time, all that kind of thing. Once I was able tomove away from that a little bit, that feeling of uncertainty transitioned from kind of a fear to a challenge.Ben AttalCo-founder of Nimbus Learning
You mentioned work-life balance. Have you found some semblance of work life balance through all this?
If you looked at it from a numbers perspective, not at all. My weekdays especially are wake up, work, eat, maybe work out, go to sleep. There’s not much time there for entertainment or anything like that. That being said, the time that I do take is very separate. The important part for me wasn’t about necessarily finding hours to replace work, I think there’s often this idea of making sure to carve out more and more hours from your work day to find the balance.
For me, what I found was more effective was in the hours that I do to make sure it’s a completely separated time and try not to be on my phone or thinking about working. Even if we have discussions about work, it’s in the context of life. When it’s life, it’s 100% life and when it’s work, it’s 100% work. It definitely is not all that balanced, but I think that when it comes down to the way that I feel right now, I’m very happy with my routine, I feel like I’m in a good spot. I normally feel energized to work and energized to take time off work and I think that’s kind of probably the best judge of the outcome of whatever efforts were put into it. More so than just quantifying the work life balance.
I’ve been able to pinpoint the parts of work life balance that have had the most positive effects on me, maximize those, and then you just have to sacrifice the other things, like watching a movie and things like that.
There’s not a one size fits all lifestyle for everyone. What you’re saying about, when you’re having dinner with your family, you’re having dinner with your family, you’re not half in/half out, does seem like that would really be a great way to find that balance.
The one thing that has been sacrificed, really, is entertainment. I don’t watch movies, TV shows, pretty much no time for any of that kind of stuff. But I would say that if you’re someone who is working a ton, that probably is the best stuff to cut out. I think sacrificing sleep is a really bad call, sacrificing any quality time that you have available is not a good goal. [Cutting out the stuff that doesn’t really matter to you] at the beginning you’re a little frustrated by it, but eventually doesn’t affect you too much.
Nimbus Learning now offers an online tutoring platform which allows students virtual access to academic support and mentorship. Click here to find out more.