What does it take to be an extraordinary entrepreneur? You know, an entrepreneur who has a vision for a business, rallies support to build it and then grows it into one of the most innovative companies in the world…what does it take to be an entrepreneur like that?
Well, I may be young, but I have been an entrepreneur for over ten years. My first SEO consulting job was in high school, where I built and ran a successful agency. From there, I co-founded a few software companies. I was fortunate to grow up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I’ve heard a lot of great advice on what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.
I’ve also seen that all great entrepreneurs subscribe to a core set of beliefs. So, what are those beliefs? Here are eight:
Belief #1: Make a decision and go!
This was one of the first lessons I learned when I started my first business. It was extremely hard to get used to making a decision and then taking an action on that decision.
I was so afraid I was making a mistake! Since then, I’ve learned that making a mistake is not a bad thing. You actually learn from those mistakes, which helps you make better decisions down the road.
You will struggle with hiring and firing people, project budgets, office space and advertising creative. When you first start off in business, you will take days and even weeks to answer these questions.
This core belief actually came back to me when I lost a million dollar client. They were happy with the service I was providing, but they wanted to know what else I was going to do to take their business to the next level. I had a few ideas, but I didn’t make a decision on which idea I was going to act. Long story short, I took too long to make a decision, and I lost a $1.2 million client.
Belief #2: Show passion, not perfection
It’s a lot easier to work on a project behind closed doors for years until you get it perfect and then ship, but that just won’t work these days.
Often, when I talk to young entrepreneurs who are “working” on a project behind closed doors, I realize they are afraid to ship because they don’t want to be ridiculed. I always tell them that people don’t want a perfect product…what they want is a passionate person behind the project.
If you can show people you are passionate about creating a perfect product by releasing it, then getting feedback and iterating…then people will jump on board…especially if the product solves a real-world problem.
Don’t try to perfect anything because if you perfect something that no one wants to use, you will just end up wasting money.
At KISSmetrics, we created two other versions of our product that are no longer live. We spent over $500,000 trying to perfect the first version of our product instead of just getting it out there. Since then, we have scrapped that product. If we used the “minimal viable product” approach, instead of trying to create a perfect product, we probably would have saved that money.
Belief #3: Avoid the ugly baby syndrome
One thing that entrepreneurs are in the habit of doing is falling in love with their idea even if it is a bad idea. This is like parents who fall in love with their new baby even though everyone knows newborns are ugly.
You need to be objective with your business, your plan and your product. Everything on the table needs to be up for a debate if you truly want to succeed.
Seek out mentors to help you and get advice from them on a regular basis. Listen closely to what they are saying. Listen closely to what your partner is saying and, more importantly, your customers.
This doesn’t mean you have to surrender every idea, but sometimes you may have to make drastic changes.
The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, tells a story of when they brought in the founder of Costco, Jim Sinegal, for advice. Jim said, “You know, I don’t want to be rude, but this is exactly the wrong thing to do.”
Schultz listened, realized Sinegal was right and shifted the company’s strategy.
One way to protect yourself from falling in love with your idea is to train yourself to fall in love with solving people’s problems. It doesn’t matter what you create to solve their problems, but as long as you do it in a simple, easy and ideally affordable way, you will be fine.
Belief #4: Find the sweet spot, then scale it
Once you have reached your product market fit, there will come a time when you need to figure out how to scale your product.
If you scale your product before people fall in love with it, you’ll tarnish your brand. What I mean by this is that people won’t be happy with your product, so they will say negative things about it. This will cause churn, a decrease in sales and a bad brand that will be hard to fix. Once people think negatively about your product or brand, it’s hard to change their perceptions even if you fix your product.
When I first started Crazy Egg, we spent thousands of dollars on marketing before we launched the product. We had a ton of churn in the beginning as there were a lot of product issues when we launched. The marketing spend had a negative ROI, and if I had to do it all over again, I would scale the business after I fixed the major product problems.
Belief #5: Don’t think about taking a leap, just take it
Speaking of perfection, there is never a perfect time to become an entrepreneur though being young and without a family is certainly a better time than being older and having family responsibilities.
Once you take the leap though, you are committed. You need to quit your job and become your new business. That’s a huge risk, for sure, but if you don’t take the risk, what’s to encourage a partner or investor to take the risk on you?
This commitment needs to infuse everything you do. Another piece of advice: never think of minimum amounts. Never think that you need to secure just four clients a month to succeed or you just need to make 200 calls before the money pours in.
That never happens. Your projections will more than likely fail. This means you need to have a mantra that says there is no failure…just wild success! So, stop wasting time and take the leap.
One of the most common emails I get is people asking if I would invest in their business idea. When I ask them how far they have gotten, most people tell me that they are still at the idea stage and don’t have the time to go further as they have a full time job. If you are not willing to quit your job and take the leap into entrepreneurship, investors won’t fund you because it shows that you don’t believe in what you are doin .
Belief #6: Entrepreneurship isn’t a war, it’s about solving problems and turning a profit
Some entrepreneurs treat business like it’s a war in which you need to defeat and destroy your competition. But even if you can actually do that and become number one in your market, you will still fail if you aren’t turning a profit.
For instance, at KISSmetrics, we don’t focus on killing our competition even though they copy our features and steal our designs. Instead, we focus on solving our customers’ problems and growing our revenue.
The truth is that if you can find a way to differentiate yourself from your competition in a meaningful way, your revenues will go up. Plus, if you are in a new market that is big enough, it doesn’t matter what your competition is doing as there is enough room for both of you.
Belief #7: Hire slow, fire fast
The single most critical part of running a successful business is to hire the right people…and fire the wrong ones fast.
Many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to select the right person based upon past performance, but I’ve often found that what you learn in an interview with somebody doesn’t equal good performance down the road.
I like to see people get their hands dirty and watch them adapt to stressful situations. When I interview people, I rarely talk about what they have done or even look at their resume. Instead, I ask them questions related to what they would do for my company and how they’d get that work done in a timely fashion.
If you happen to hire a few bad people, keeping them will hurt your business. Mark Zuckerburg famously fired people who were loyal to him but couldn’t handle the growth. Zappos even paid people to leave the company if things weren’t working out to make the transition easy.
Belief #8: Learn from your first, earn from your second, give back with your third
If you are a serial entrepreneur or you are on your first business but think you have two or three more in you, then you will likely get a lot of experience, business wisdom and wealth out of those ventures. It will take years before you get there, but if you keep at it, sooner or later you will do well.
Your first business is going to be full of mistakes and lessons learned…that’s a good thing! You can apply those lessons to your second business, where you should get it right and become successful. Then, on your third business, you can give back.
You can give back money to other startups, but you can also give back experience and help out other entrepreneurs or volunteer for charities. Don’t ever expect anything in return, but instead just give back like your mentors did with you.
Now, if you have all of these core beliefs in place on day one as an entrepreneur, you are going to become extraordinary, right? The answer is no. The thing about starting and growing a business is that you will grow as a person yourself…and that is one of the best types of education an entrepreneur can get!
So, take a minute to re-read the core beliefs I shared above, then print them out and start working on becoming the next Bill Gates or Larry Page.