“Man, I’m tired. It feels like I'm running a marathon.” Those were the first few words in my conversation with the CEO of a growing software company a few days ago. What he said next made me smile.
“I just wish I knew how far along I was in the race. Am I at mile 4 or 24?“
Such is the life of an entrepreneur. You’re in. You're committed. You're running as hard as you can. But it feels like the finish line should be a lot closer.
There are a lot of lessons you can learn from being the leader of a startup. Some of them you can learn in books. Others can be gleaned from reading popular blogs or attending seminars. But there are always a few lessons that you have to learn the hard way, experiences you have to feel to fully appreciate. Here are my insights into that world:
1. You're always losing until you're not. All that work you're doing can feel so much insanity until you get it right. It's often said that doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. But that's how you crack stone. That's how you move mountains, one hammer blow at a time, one shovel full of dirt at a time -- until it’s done.
It's going to look like it's not working. Other people are going to keep reminding you that what you're doing is crazy and unreasonable. And they will be right -- up until the point that all your hard work pays off and you become a winner. Until then, get used to “losing.”
Tune out the critics. Focus on what matters.
2. The right plan doesn't exist. Just because a successful entrepreneur told you that he or she made millions of dollars building a business a certain way doesn’t mean you should adopt that formula. Frankly, just because a particular strategy brought success in the past doesn’t mean it will work the second or third time around.
Times change. So do strategies, technology and opportunity. What used to be impossible is now as easy as speaking into your phone. What once was a winning formula might now be a horrible waste of time and money. Think about this as you're building your plan.
Success is less about getting it right the first time and more about positioning yourself for taking advantage of opportunities as they emerge.
3. Brawn beats brains most of the time. All those people telling you to work smarter need to shut up. That is an allusion. What really matters is the truths you figure out automatically after you’ve worked hard enough. Your focus should not be on anything other than massive amounts of hard work. That's how every major breakthrough in technology, math, sports and business has occurred -- through massive amounts of mind-blowing effort.
Doing hard work isn't an excuse for wasting time or not paying attention to your effectiveness. But you'll find yourself being more efficient the longer you work and the more tired you feel. Just work hard. While everyone is thinking, procrastinating and planning, you'll be busy executing.
There is something magical about getting things done. It cures just about any problem you have.
4. People matter more than ideas. There's no technology that can replace the effectiveness of a handshake. No amount of edgy thinking or bold technology can be more powerful than looking someone in the eye when you’re talking to them. Relationships matter.
The more logical things appear to be, the less they probably are. That's the beautiful complexity of being human. We’re weird about hiding emotion. We often don't truly say what is on our mind. If you looking to believe everything you hear from people whom you're trying to do business with, you find yourself flailing around from strategy to strategy, underperforming and never quite figuring out the formula for being successful.
Remember, the same irrational behavior you find inexcusable in others is how you, yourself, are wired to react.
Being an entrepreneur is just about the hardest job in the world. You might as well sign up to be the sparring partner for Mike Tyson in his raging prime. You're going to get a black eye or a bloody nose more than once. It comes with the territory.
But there's nothing more rewarding the following your dream and bringing to life an idea that no one else thinks is possible. Along the way you'll learn a few lessons of your own.