BW asked this question on my recent blog post, Ten Requirements of Successful Entrepreneurs:

Nice post Jeff. I’m curious if you believe, as an entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable with going into personal debt. This has been a big deterrent among people I know that I believe are otherwise cut out to be entrepreneurs. Obviously there are alternatives and other best-case scenarios but do you feel like that willingness to go into debt is demonstrative of the appropriate level of risk appetite? Do you think it’s possible to have the drive and determination to be successful but stop short of being willing to take on large amounts of personal debt?

Normally I would answer that in the comment section of the post itself, but the question was one that I think a lot of people are wondering, so I thought I’d make it into its own post. Let’s start with this:

I’ve never known a successful entrepreneur that didn’t risk going into personal debt their first time around.

Once you’ve had success, things begin to open up to you (either you have capital from a previous sale, or you have enough of a reputation to raise funding). But at the beginning, you rarely have other options than to risk your personal money (or the credit card company’s personal money) to get your dream off the ground.

Lord knows I went into high personal debt when I was starting out. Partly because I didn’t know any better, but also because I HAD to make Spunlogic work. There was no other option.

You either believe in yourself and your idea so much that you’re willing to make personal sacrifices – your time, your money, your sanity – or you shouldn’t be starting a company. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It’s tough, and its risky, and there’s just no way to get around that.

All that said, you don’t HAVE to end up pulling that trigger. But you have to be willing to.