The 10 Lessons I Learned in More Than 10 Years as an Entrepreneur
There are plenty of articles online these days focused on helping entrepreneurs make it big quickly. This has caused founders to stop focusing on building a sustainable business brick by brick and instead have their sights on becoming a member of the unicorn club. It’s completely unrealistic.
While some companies have achieved the impossible, the other 99.99 percent of entrepreneurs are building their businesses on the foundation of day-to-day decisions, inevitable setbacks and incremental advancements.
In my 15 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve faced these challenges daily. Here are the 10 biggest lessons I’ve learned while running a startup to hopefully help push you through the daily grind and continue to pursue gradational success.
1. You will fail.
It’s practically required of entrepreneurs to fail. Entire businesses go down in flames every day. A decision made in a misguided moment results in months of scrambling. Paradoxically, failure is in fact critical to success.
It’s not about how badly you fail, it’s about how you respond, recover and learn. After all, growth comes with pain -- that’s why they’re called growing pains. Resilience, patience and persistence are crucial to a startup’s success, so focus on those attributes with every decision you make.
2. Luck matters.
Yes, hard work and intelligence go a long way in the startup world. However, the stars need to align every once in a while as well. That doesn’t mean you should sit back and wait for good things to fall into your lap. You need to be observant enough to see luck on the horizon and smart enough to take advantage of it. Keep your eyes open and don’t feel guilty for good things coming your way. Expect good fortune and capitalize on it.
3. Conduct your business like you conduct your life.
The line between personal and professional lives have blurred for many, especially entrepreneurs. In my experience, the vast majority of people who have a positive attitude toward their personal life and reflect this outlook in their business life experience more success. Passion, integrity and continuous self-improvement are deeply embedded traits that are hard to partition to only one part of life.
4. Things are never as bad as you think.
Having a positive mindset goes much further beyond day-to-day business operations. At your lowest point, when you’re ready to give up, is often the time when growth is actually happening. It may feel like your feet are cast in concrete, but you are actually walking the path toward success. Don’t lose your perspective on reality, but keep in mind that struggle is good: It’s indicative of progress.
Next time you’re in a rut, take a deep breath and find the power and passion that drove you to enter the startup world in the first place. This tenacity can help you make it through even the most difficult situations.
5. Network, network, network.
Many entrepreneurs -- okay many business professionals in general -- inwardly groan at the suggestion of networking. It seems like a huge waste of time to pass out business cards over drinks and count handshakes at conference after conference. However, there’s a reason all entrepreneurs do it. Making connections with folks may not lead to something today or tomorrow but often pays off years down the road. Force yourself to get out a few times a month and meet new people. Focus on making connections with those can help your startup thrive and build lasting relationships -- instead of a just a business card collection.
6. Be responsive and respectful in all your encounters.
Demonstrate kindness, humility and respect to all acquaintances -- no matter who they are. This goes far beyond networking events. If someone reaches out to you with a solicitation, let them kindly know you’re not interested and why. After all, this is what you want from your prospects when you reach out to them. This same idea applies to job candidates, people reaching out for business advice and more. Respond to all of these people and remember that good begets good.
7. Go boldly where no man has before.
Don’t be afraid to try things everyone else thinks is crazy.
Move forward with that “out there” product idea. Attempt that crazy marketing stunt. Entrepreneurs didn’t become successful by repeating the tactics of those who came before them. Don’t be afraid to turn your industry on its head and build a thriving company by refusing to listen to those who call your ideas crazy.
8. Be fiercely loyal.
Trust takes time to earn, but once someone has proven trustworthy, loyalty enables relationships to make it through thick and thin. Practice this with your business partners, friends and employees. It will pay off. If you are loyal to others, most will be loyal to you.
Don’t forget to demonstrate loyalty to your customers either. Gaining a group of dedicated customers takes an enormous amount of hard work. Don’t abandon them when you finally build up that following. Keep their experience in mind with every decision you make and keep the promises you make to them.
9. Trust your gut.
If you feel strongly about something and instinct is telling you to take action on a feeling you have, you probably should. Even scientists say your gut is right 90 percent of the time. Use data and research to help guide your decisions, but don’t use them as a crutch. Your instinct has taken you pretty far in business and will continue to serve you well if you trust it when it counts.
Similarly, if you think you’re not being given an honest answer, maintain forward momentum. People will tell you “no” when “yes” is really there. Keep pushing for the answers you want and need. Stay strong in face of the opposition.
10. Actively seek constructive feedback and advice.
Remember to be humble and open to criticism from everyone -- customers, colleagues, employees or that random guy you met at a networking event. Constructive criticism is crucial to a startup’s success. Listen to everything someone wants to say about your product, service and brand. They’re often just trying to help make your business stronger.
That being said, don’t let them knock you off your path. All criticism should be taken with a grain of salt. If you think you’re on the right path, tell the naysayers, “Thank you for your input,” and follow your instincts.