People often ask me what the right age to start one’s journey as an entrepreneur is, or if it is important to first get a lot of working experience. My answer would always be, learn from others first and strike out on your own once you are ready.
Of course, this raises the question of how to know you are ready. Unfortunately, that is a decision that nobody else but you can make. Ultimately, it is the leap of faith.
However, I have learned some things that have been pivotal to my success, through my own experiences and from the experiences of others before me. To help others who are on their entrepreneurial journeys, here’s what I’ve learned about being a successful entrepreneur.
Resolute, resourceful, and resilient
Becoming a successful entrepreneur requires building a strong personal foundation so that you can lead your company effectively, adapt to challenging circumstances, and navigate crises. In my experience, the following three personal qualities were crucial in helping me do the above.
To be resolute is to have a singular, coherent focus and belief in what you are trying to accomplish. This requires you to develop a strong narrative of your purpose as an entrepreneur and startup.
If you can clearly and convincingly answer why you want to be an entrepreneur and start a company, the right people will find you and want to work with you.
Regardless of your best-laid plans, you will encounter situations that will challenge you. In those circumstances, being resourceful and making creative use of what is available to accomplish your goals despite limitations will be essential.
There is a proverb that says, “The wind does not break the tree that bends”. I think of resilience in a similar way. Enduring harsh winds and storms will strain you but if you are able to be reactive to difficulties while remaining rooted then you will be the one left standing among the competition.
Define a long-term strategy
Besides personal qualities that you need to be successful as an entrepreneur, surviving and thriving in the competitive startup space requires your company has a long-term strategy to turn your vision into reality.
The world is noisy and chaotic and the startup scene is especially so. Reorienting your company at every disruption or crisis is unsustainable and rarely works out well.
Instead, define goals for what you want your company to achieve in five, ten, and twenty years’ time and then come up with a broad strategy for how they can be accomplished.
A long-term strategy gives your company a clear direction in which to head so that everyone knows where their efforts will be most effective.
It also affords flexibility in dealing with problems in the short-term because you will have better clarity on actions that will bring you closer to your long-term goals rather than further away from them.
Building the right team
Hiring is one of the most crucial factors in the success of a startup. Every company wants to hire motivated self-starters but the difficulty is in identifying these individuals and convincing them to work for you.
When Apple was a young company, they had a rigorous hiring process that involved getting to know the candidate intimately and having them talk to each member of the team at least once. After internal discussions, if the team decides that they liked the candidate enough, they would then show them the latest prototype that they were working on.
If the candidate only politely complimented the computer, they would not hire them but if their eyes light up and they are really excited about the prototype, then they would know that this was a person that they wanted to work with.
Your company’s hiring process does not have to be as rigorous as Apple’s but you need to figure out a way to discover these motivated, knowledgeable, and skilled individuals to join your company.
As an entrepreneur and leader of your company, your role in building and keeping the right team together is to demonstrate leadership. Steve Jobs defined leadership as providing a compelling vision for what the company is and will become in the future, being able to articulate that vision, and getting a consensus from your team for a common vision.
This is an ongoing process but If you are able to maintain a great hiring process and demonstrate leadership, then the right people will want to work with you.
Focus on the customer
I like to say that the customer is where the bread comes from so it is essential to listen to them. Your customer support team is crucial to this. Your customers are the best beta testers of your product because they are the people that use it.
Having responsive customer support will give you a pipeline of information on how to improve your products or services.
Good customer support also adds value to your products and serves as a great marketing tool. Just think about how people choose to sign up with a particular Telco or bank because their customer support is able to provide helpful and timely advice.
Learn to relax
Failure is a fact of life and this is especially so in business, partners can let you down or business deals might fall through. It is important to stay positive and have an emotional outlet for the stresses of leading a startup. Your team will look to you as a leader and their behavior will be a reflection of yours.
Stress and anxiety are not conducive to rational decision making so make sure that you have a healthy outlet for negative emotions or else you might find that success in entrepreneurship was not worth it after all.