What is the one piece of advice you would give to a first-time entrepreneur?
From your perspective, what's the most important item to think about, or what's the biggest mistake to avoid?
Answer this question
My business is now four years old. What started with a guy and a laptop now has eight employees and is growing.
I’ve learned a ton along the way, and still learn every day. Here are ten things I now know and respect about starting and running a business.
1. You are never “ready”
Three things in my life I never would have done if I’d have waited until I was “ready”: get married, have kids, start a business. You’re never really ready, you just have to build enough of a plan and confidence (rational or not) to step off the cliff and give it a try.
2. It’s exciting and terrifying
Far more exciting than terrifying, at least for me now, but running a business has regular highs and lows. You have to get used to it and be OK with it, and keep yourself focused, humble and productive throughout.
3. Put your hard hat on every day
You are going to work. Hard. Even as the business grows and you don’t have to do all of the execution, you’ll still work hard and execute tactics daily. It doesn’t really get easier, but you get more confident and comfortable with the work required to sustain and grow what you’ve started.
4. It will not go as planned
Things will go wrong. Plans will go awry. The market will change. Customers will evolve. Your culture will emerge in an unexpected way.
All of these are opportunities to root yourself in what you stand for and adjust your expectations and execution to move forward.
5. Take advantage of opportunity and serendipity
Luck is the residue of design, so smart people put themselves in a position to have more opportunity and serendipitous situations. Look for them, be open to them, and walk through the door more often.
6. Take risks & make mistakes
You’re not always going to be right, but that’s not the point (or the goal). Test things, be OK making mistakes and learning from them. Ship more often. Break some glass. Mitigate your risk and stay true to your values, but figure out what others have not.
7. Get a mentor (or 4)
These can be formal members of your board, or informal advisors who enjoy a free lunch on your dime from time to time. Surround yourself with people far smarter than you, who have been where you are or at minimum have a parallel set of experience that offers an entirely different worldview and perspective that can help you think better and make smarter decisions.
8. It’s hard to turn it off (but you have to)
You will think about work all the time. There will always be a ton more to do. Your new ideas will consume every moment you give them. But you still need to turn it off, take the evening or weekend off. Find a hobby that’s as far away from a computer screen as possible, play with your kids, distance yourself from the work. You’ll come back refreshed and more creative.
9. Relationships are everything
Your customers. Your employees. Your partners. Everything is about the relationships you create and sustain with the people around you. It’s the most important asset you have, no matter what business you are in.
10. People will hate you (so you need thick skin)
No matter what your business, you will have enemies. People who envy what you’ve done or created, people who disagree with how you do it, people who simply don’t share your worldview or values. You won’t change their mind, and it will drive you crazy if you let it. Learn from the experience, but develop and keep the thick skin and resolve necessary to fight through the adversity and do what you believe is right.
Smart advices Matt! Thank you for the ten thoughfull pieces ...
I totally agree on each of them - the question is : "did you follow/experienced all of them?" .. in my case, I've got some of them : I was not ready, I'm exited and terrified, took advantage of some unexpected situation, have a mentor (2) and cannot turn it off. The rest will have to come soon :)
Thank you for that, I take it as a bit of a boost ...
Matt has provided a great response to this question. I would contribute the following for consideration as a way of adding to some of Matt’s concepts.
Perseverance is a necessary trait.
I am reminded of a passage from a well-known book that states “Be grateful for every kind of trial that comes your way, for when you succeed in facing such trials, you gain the ability to endure”. When we formed Skyron Systems in 2006, there was no hint of the oncoming recession. When it hit in late 2007, we were in the middle of fund raising for developing our technology. It was a long two years of Ramen Noodles and belt tightening, but perseverance paid off and we became a “real” company.
Discomfort can lead to growth.
As an entrepreneur, you will be required to do tasks that you are uncomfortable with. If you’re a marketer, you will still have to do the accounting. If you have an operations background, you will have to become a salesman. While uncomfortable, look at these situations as opportunities to stretch yourself, both personally and professionally. In the end, as your business grows, you can pass these job functions to others for whom that skill set is more natural.
Strategic partnerships can leverage your effort.
Whether your partners are contract manufacturers, engineering consultants, component suppliers, or virtual assistants, strive to develop relationships with others (people and firms) that are willing to assist you in achieving your dream. While you may find mentors who will help you for the sheer joy of “giving back”, strategic partners will want to help you as a way of building their business as well.
So, while you may want to “conquer the world”, maintain a focus on helping others on your way to the top. Your collective momentum will make the journey more enjoyable.
Family is important.
While entrepreneurs are imbued with the trait to innovate and make history, remember that in the end, it is your family and friends that bring true quality of life. Your 80 hours per week and making $MIL will mean little if you lose all others on your climb to the top. When you’re 60 and alone, all of your achievements will lose their attractiveness. As Matt hints, employees may not share your dreams of business glory, so remember that the quality of their contribution to your company may be a direct reflection of the quality of their family life. As the leader, it is your responsibility to care for your people – be sure that their welfare comes before yours.
The entrepreneur community can be helpful.
Going it alone can be daunting. Many cities have business forums that are established for people launching new companies and the common issues they face. Being a part of these incubator groups places you with others who may share some of your struggles within their own businesses. Some will have advice they can share or contacts that can be of value to you. Likewise, you may be able to help others as well.
Agility is mandatory.
As Matt states, things don’t always go as planned. Your ability to rapidly assess a situation, develop an alternative strategy, and execute a change in direction, be it monthly or weekly, is absolutely necessary until you see your efforts bearing fruit and confirming a profitable direction to pursue. This is necessary in engineering design, developing a new software program, or launching a new marketing campaign. Be light on your feet.
Not all ideas are meant to become businesses.
The harsh reality is that there is phenomenal number of great ideas out there, but not all are destined to become profitable businesses. The wrong leaders, the wrong partners, the market is not ready, the economy is not right – there are a myriad of reasons. This does not mean you shouldn’t try hard to make a go of it. What is does mean is that you should continually reflect upon your idea and be brutally honest about your ability to launch the business based upon real-time feedback of your efforts. While we may admire the dreamer who took out a second mortgage on their home, sold their cars, emptied their 401k, and maxed out all of their credit cards as being a “true entrepreneur”, we usually only accord them that admiration if they were able to make it all work out. But statistics tell us that for every one like that, there are nine others that didn’t and the hole they have to dig out from is extremely deep. Stretch yourself but remember a maxim quoted by Plato – “Know thyself”. In other words, know when to throw in the towel – it will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do.
But remember, your next idea may be the one that takes off, so keep some assets in reserve to make it happen.