5 Lessons for First-Time Entrepreneurs I Learned the Hard Way
Now that I’m well past my first-time entrepreneur experience, I can reflect on what I learned during that period in my life. In doing so, my tips might be able to help some of you first-time entrepreneurs out there get past barriers a little more quickly, get launched faster, and avoid some pitfalls along the way.
I've failed many time. I can remember several times where I didn't even have enough money in my bank account to pay off the minimum payment on my credit card.
Years later and a healthy bank account later I can share with you a few things I should have known but didn't. Here are five tips that I wish I knew before I started that would have potentially saved me from failing several times:
1. Ask a lot of questions.
There were many places where I thought I knew what I was doing that would have been better served if I had asked questions instead of assuming. I thought if I asked questions that maybe someone might think I was stupid or might not take me seriously in the business and investment worlds. In actual fact, I should have spoken up and asked more questions because this would have saved me time and money as well as potentially got me funding faster.
Asking questions often means you are interested in learning more and that you are interested in what others have to say, including investors, potential customers, and business partners. These contacts take questions as actual interest and engagement in them and in the subject matter, rather than a sign of weakness. If someone thinks you have asked a dumb question, that’s their opinion and it shouldn’t matter. You are simply gathering more information to help make important decisions and clearly you can’t know everything.
2. Don’t skip college.
There have been some incredible stories of young entrepreneurs who made it while still in high school or early in college - and who found success without a degree. Even if that were to happen to you, skipping college isn’t a step I would suggest.
When I was in college, I got a good theoretical framework, general knowledge, business acumen and skill set that definitely was beneficial to being able to better run a business. This helped me when I launched my first company to not get screwed when I got approached with a bad acquisition deal. Of course, real world experience and street smarts count for a lot, but it is good to have the foundation that college offers. Plus, I met one of my mentors and people who later went on to become business partners.
Now, many universities have top programs and services just for those interested in entrepreneurship plus offer accelerator labs and startup assistance. Take the time - and yes, spend the money to go to college. Remember, you can still start your business at the same time like Zuckerberg and others have done.
3. Get a co-founder (and a mentor).
Although I first struck out on my own, I quickly learned that two are better than one. Having a co-founder provided a way to fill in those areas where I lacked knowledge, expertise, skills and connections. Just take the time to find that special person that truly complements you and where you can create and hold a shared vision.
It is not easy, but I used networking events and my other connections, including my mentor, to find a co-founder. Together, we have launched several successful business and now are building the future of cash. I could never have done this alone. Neither can you.
Next, I suggest getting a mentor. I have had several and they helped me immensely when creating a strategy, business plan, and roadmap as well as helped me visualize what I wanted to do. Not to mention my favorite mentor was there to lend emotional support when things just weren’t working. I personally find the best mentors are free and want to help because of you.
4. Celebrate the small wins (and failures).
At first, all I had my eyes on was the big prize of launching and growing a successful business. What I didn’t do was recognize the small wins along the way. I failed to stop and celebrate those small successes as real accomplishments. It’s only now that I see how all those small wins along the way were crucial to the big win at the end that I know I missed meaningful moments that could have brought me - and those with me, some happiness. Plus, these “wins” help keep the momentum going.
Now that I know what to watch for, I celebrate these smaller wins. I recognize small wins have helped me get through the barriers and failures, too. Then, there is the idea of celebrating the failures. Sure, it sounds like the last thing you would want to do, but there is a good reason to get yourself into this mindset. Up until the point of my first gigantic setback and then failure, I had excelled at anything and everything I'd ever done. As an overachiever, never losing seemed really great, but I never learned as much as I did when I failed for the first time, and that failure might not have been so devastating had I known how to take those failures in stride, learn from them, and thank my lucky stars they happened. Oh, and that next small “win” you have right after that failure will truly be celebrated.
5. Don’t forget to have fun.
As a first-time entrepreneur, I was working like crazy – so focused and so determined. I was so busy that I forgot to enjoy the ride I was on. Of course, I’m still pretty intense when it comes to what I’m trying to build and I love to put in long hours, but now I realize the benefit of consciously reminding myself about the pure enjoyment of creating something from scratch and watching it grow. Now that I have a little one at home, I really understand what it means to watch your “baby,” see how this little person develops, and see your own reflection in what you have made.
Maybe it is still hard to understand why I’m offering this type of advice at this point in my entrepreneurial life. But keep it in mind as you set off on your own personal entrepreneurial journey that there is a lot to see along the way. If you can incorporate anything I’ve shared with you - if even a tiny piece of information that makes your way easier, it will bring me happiness and satisfaction. While everyone’s story is different, there are some parts of this life and parts of the entrepreneurial travels where you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.