4 Lessons That Most Successful Entrepreneurs Had to Learn the Hard Way
The path to building a successful business is rarely a simple one.
But in the beginning, it seems simple enough: you’ll build an amazing product, market it and watch as people pull out their credit cards. Then you’ll hire people to take over menial tasks and you’ll move into the role of CEO, eventually delegating that as well and living on the beach in Bora Bora, sipping on a martini.
Of course, anyone who’s spent more than three months trying to build a business knows that isn’t the common story arc for a thriving startup. The truth is, building a business brings lots of unexpected twists -- people quit, products fail, you burn out.
To help mitigate the impact of those speed bumps, here are four lessons that most successful entrepreneurs have learned the hard way, but maybe you don’t have to.
1. Your first idea is rarely your best idea.
When you launch, your product is a bit like a newborn baby. It’s delicate, fragile and the last thing you want to hear is that it’s ugly -- or worse yet, to hear nothing at all. Unfortunately, the latter is often the case when an ambitious entrepreneur launches a product they love. Since your market doesn’t want to outright tell you that your product is terrible, they don’t say anything at all -- they don’t interact with your content, they don’t click on your CTAs and they are quick to unsubscribe from your email list.
And that’s OK. More often than not, your first idea isn’t your best idea, but can segway into a profitable idea if you do everything in your power to understand your market and what they really need. It’s not about getting it right the first time, but about getting it right eventually. In the words of Eric Ries, which easily sums up what a lean startup is, “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” By the way, if you haven’t read The Lean Startup yet, it’s a must for first-time entrepreneurs.
Lesson: Don’t get married to your ideas. Focus on the metrics that matter. Test everything before and during your building process.
2. Hiring the wrong person is more expensive than waiting for the right person.
When an amateur entrepreneur hires their first employee, it usually has more to do with how much they like the person and how cheap it costs to employ them than it does with how good that person is at their job.
It doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at first. But it only takes doing this a few times to find out that hiring people because they're cheap or because you like them is a terrible idea. You’re better off hiring someone who’s good at the work they do even if they’re more expensive -- over the long run, the higher performer will actually save you money. Red Adair put it best when he said, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Lesson: Take your time when hiring. You may have heard this before, “hire slow and fire fast.” It’s applicable to this point. Only hire when you absolutely must, initially. If there are things you can do early on, do them. But also, if it’s best to hire and delegate to focus on cash-generating activities, do that too. This is when you’ll have to trust your gut.
3. Your mental health directly impacts your business’s success.
Entrepreneurship has a dark side -- a side that’s riddled with mental health ailments. Statistically, entrepreneurs are twice as likely to struggle with depression and five times more likely to struggle with ADHD than their less ambitious counterparts.
You could make an argument, of course, that the entrepreneurial lifestyle has a tendency to attract those of us with chemical imbalances, but I think it’s equally likely that building a business creates (or at least aggravates) symptoms associated with depression, ADHD and even bipolar disorder.
And the more that you struggle, the more your business will struggle. I hit a workout recently with Austin Paulsen, the founder of AP Performance, and he explained, “It doesn’t take long to figure out that your own mental fortitude directly influences how quickly your business grows. I coach lots of people on their health and if there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that a person’s health directly impacts their daily performance, at home and behind the desk.”
Lesson: Your mental and physical health is everything, and it’s not worth the cost of your success. Don’t fall into that trap. Be an entrepreneur focused on longevity and sustainability, which means you need to focus on your physical and mental health too. Eat healthily, exercise often and disconnect multiple times per week.
4. The road to success can be a long one.
When you launch your business, dreams abound. You don’t just dream at night, either. During the day, you find yourself wondering distractedly what it might be like to make millions of dollars or to lead a team of genius-level employees.
And sure, for some businesses, that dream is a reality. But don’t get sucked into the media frenzy highlight reels. Building a company from the ground up takes time and work. Sometimes it will be a perfect storm and things will move faster, but be focused on the long term too.
Sometimes, the reality is far more boring, but also far more likely. A gradual slope upward that’s riddled with relatively uninteresting spikes and plummets. That’s how it’s supposed to be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about entrepreneurship, it’s that you have to enjoy the journey. If you love it, then you’ll succeed.
Lesson: Be patient in your journey. Don’t compare yourself or company to others. And, focus on the things you can control. Entrepreneurship is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced, but it can also be the most volatile. Embrace your journey.
You’ll have lots of unexpected twists and turns along your entrepreneurial journey. You may be subjected to lawsuits from partners or customers, you may raise money and lose it all in the same day, you may grow sales or go bankrupt.
Fortunately, you can learn from people who’ve already been there and done that. Successful entrepreneurs will act as your guiding light to help get you where you want to go. Find mentors, read books and network with your peers. By remembering the above four points, you’ll streamline your path to success and bypass a few of the lessons that most successful entrepreneurs had to learn the hard way.
Catch the third season of my Entrepreneur Network video series Action & Ambition on Friday, March 22. The entire reason I created the show is so that we could learn the backstories and journeys that other successful entrepreneurs have endured along their path to success.