There’s no instruction manual for Entrepreneurs, but there are common missteps and catalysts for success. Here are a few basic stepping stones for those just starting their entrepreneurial journey.
The path to becoming an entrepreneur is unpaved. Every individual will have different experiences and face varying obstacles in their pursuit of success. Over the past 25 years I’ve experienced many ups and downs while building my own companies, and in my current role as an investor have seen and helped others navigate similar challenges. Looking back on what I’ve learned, here are 10 key takeaways that can guide any entrepreneur plotting their path to success.
- Pursue your passion – too often, entrepreneurs are fueled only by money. But the people who pursue something that they are passionate about greatly increase their chances of success (and happiness). Your passion is the driving force behind everything you do related to your business – the financial risks you take, long hours you work and sacrifices you make along the way. Your passion is what sets you apart from others you’ll compete against and what will drive you to achieve beyond those who are simply chasing dollar signs. When you’re passionate, your investors, colleagues and customers can see it.
- Meet Needs, Don’t Simply Create Products – sometimes entrepreneurs will work backwards without realizing it. Entrepreneurs – especially those with a technical or engineering-based mindset – are always eager to make a product that they think is cool. On the positive side, this shows an entrepreneur’s passion, but on the downside there’s always a chance that their passion is being misdirected. Just because something is cool in the eyes of its creator doesn’t mean it will sell. Budding entrepreneurs should first find out what people want, then create the technology that helps them to get it.
- Listen to the market – This goes hand-in-hand with the idea above. To avoid creating a product just because you can or think it would be cool, there are a lot of questions to ask that will make sure the goal you’re chasing will be worthwhile. How can you fit what you’re doing into the current state of the market? Can you look to industry research to identify where there’s a gap? How can your expertise and unique skillset be leveraged to create something to fill that void? By identifying a need in the market and by backing up your suspicions with third party validation, there’s guaranteed to be a higher demand for whatever it may be that you’re offering.
- Follow customer feedback – keeping customers happy is essential to any successful business. It’s important that your company does not develop into a vacuum – listen to your customers and consider their feedback on an ongoing basis, not only simply when making major updates.
- Read between the lines – as you’re pitching your business and speaking with customers, investors, potential partners, etc., listen to what people are saying. Are they giving you a “hard no” on some things, but leaving the door open on others with comments like, “that’s interesting?” Often in business, what people say is not always what they mean. Consider this, too, when working across the globe with individuals from different cultures and backgrounds. What someone says might not always be definitive of what they mean, so it’s important to consider every comment in full context.
- Change everything if necessary – as painful as it may be, sometimes it’s necessary to accept when an idea has led to a dead end. This could, and has, proven to be a pivotal point in the grand scheme of things for many entrepreneurs. Zoom out and look at your current situation from the big picture. Sure, you might need to refocus and discard months, or even years of work, but it’s important to look at what you could achieve by realigning your efforts. Don’t let your fear of change and your pride get in the way of your long-term success.
- Never compromise on integrity – embracing change and questioning assumptions is vital for any entrepreneur. However, there is no opportunity so great it warrants compromising on ethics. Always remember to follow your gut and stand firm in your beliefs.
- Seek new experiences – be open and embrace experiences that force you outside of your comfort zone. Strive to continuously learn and even consider going back to school if additional education is something you desire. Also, embrace your surroundings and the people around you, travel and try something new. By opening yourself up to new things it’s incredible what you might find. And more importantly, you never know what new direction you might be pulled in – it might benefit your business substantially.
- Play to your strengths – you know yourself better than anyone else. So, what environment do you thrive in? How do you best learn? What kind of team culture do you envision? Don’t try to conform to any one way because other people believe it will be good for you. You’re the only one who knows what’s best for you.
- Keep learning from what works (and what doesn’t) – the saying, “hindsight is 20/20,” is commonly used for good reason. Always maintain the ability, agility, and humility to learn from what works (and what doesn’t).
There’s no right or wrong way to be an entrepreneur, and there’s no formula for success. However, there’s much to be learned from those who have already been down the path you’re headed. So, remember, pursue something you’re truly passionate about, be open-minded – both in business and in life – and continuously learn from what works and what doesn’t. This will help you as you’re just starting out, when your company experiences growth and beyond.