Join Jason Saltzman at the Entrepreneur 360™ conference on Oct. 7 in New York City as he discusses why your startup should build a powerful community and how to do it. Register now.
Being an entrepreneur is hard as hell. There's no handbook on creating something out of nothing. There are plenty of books from thought leaders, but nothing that truly connects the dots. I've been self-employed since the age of 17 (aside from selling candy in elementary school with my buddy, Dave Cushman) and in my experience with the startup community as the CEO of AlleyNYC, I work with tons of entrepreneurs. I really see it all, and it’s a bloody war.
Recently, I was asked to speak at an event at Columbia University about the future of entrepreneurship, and some of the questions I was asked motivated me to write a quick guide to entrepreneurship -- think of it as the eight-step plan for winning the entrepreneurship battle ahead. This is for all of you who are thinking about doing your own thing:
1. Have thick skin.
I don't know it all, but I know one thing to be very, very true: bad shit is going to happen. It's inevitable. It is how you deal with the situation that presents itself that will define you. You need to have thick skin. No only for your sanity, but to keep calm for those around you who are working with you to build your vision. You are a general of your own army, and it is WAR. Put on that damn helmet and lead your soldiers to the Promised Land.
2. Failure is a lesson.
You are going to fail. It's as simple as that. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s GOING to happen. Guess what? It is a good thing. Failure gives you direction. Failure is the universe (or, market) telling you to do something different. Without failure, how would you know how to make something that people want? If you think it's common that people build successful businesses without any failure, you need to think again. Fail fast, learn, and repeat. Put on a lab coat; it is a science experiment. If you want the winning formula, you have to try to match all of the ingredients to make it work, and that is perseverance. Accept failure as a lesson and do it now.
3. Weed out the negative.
This is a hard one. We live in a world surrounded by negativity. It takes a strong-willed individual to focus on the positive. If you fall into a negativity trap, you risk making horrible decisions for your business. In order to make sure you don’t do this, you need to surround yourself with positive people. In my opinion, a positive atmosphere is essential for the growth of a good business. AlleyNYC is a collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs. We make sure we only accept positive individuals into the community. It’s one of our top requirements. The reason we do this is because we know that being around positive people will get you through all the other crap that happens when you are trying to create something out of nothing. This practice really works and, if you ever doubt it, come visit us in NYC!
4. Be humble.
This is pretty simple: nobody wants to work with an egomaniac. Part of growing an awesome business is developing meaningful relationships. I promise you that if you are a conceited, you are more than likely not listening to those around you, and no one will want to be around you. How meaningful is a one-sided relationship? Drop your ego at the door. In the small doorway of success, your ego will not fit. Trust me.
5. Be authentic.
My friend and mentor, Marc Ecko, wrote an amazing book called Unlabeled: The Art of Selling Without Selling Out. READ IT. The bottom line is that you have to stay true to your vision. If you aren't being authentic, it will show through in your product and your potential customers will see that. For you to develop a strong brand, that brand needs to resonate and touch the minds and souls (and potentially wallets) of your customers. When I created the branding for AlleyNYC, I thought of what I wanted out of a community and what type of value I can create for others. My partner, Nsi, and I work our asses off creating an authentic environment and it shows. Keep it REAL.
6. Listen up.
In order to build a successful company you must listen to everything around you. In order to build products of services that people will want to use, you need to know how to create value. The only way to gauge this is to learn from your customers. You should never build what you want to build, or develop something the way you think you should develop it. You need to validate your assumptions by getting out of the development stage and interview your potential customers. The way of doing this is commonly referred to as the “lean startup” methodology. If you haven't already, you need to pick up the book, The Lean Startup by Eric Reis.
7. Buckle up.
For those of you who are newbies and are about to start your own business, you’d better buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride. One day is going to be the best day of your life, directly followed up by the worst day of your life. I have been doing this for a very, very long time. It NEVER gets easy; it only looks easy on TV. It’s a bloody mess of trials and tribulations and constantly being tested. If you have the nerve and this excites you, you may be ready to start!
8. Save space.
I don't really focus on this as much as I should. I truly believe that if you want to be successful, you need to give it your 100 percent. Part of that is maintaining some room for your loved ones. Your family and true friends will be a huge support system when shit goes wrong (which it will). Make time for them. Don't shut them out. I know, I know: if you read my articles, I always talk about the hustle. But having a support system got me to where I am today. Without that love in my life, I would have no power to move forward.
These are plays out of my own book. I only share these things with you in the hopes that it gives you comfort on your journey and possibly motivates you to do awesome things. I am going to continue to share as I see it fit and although I do not know close to everything, I have been through a lot. Until next time, HUSTLE ON.
Related: 6 Ways to Avoid Getting Screwed