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Start-up Advice

5 Lessons For First-Time Entrepreneurs I Learned The Hard Way

Every chance you have to learn from somebody else’s mistakes, take it.

John Rampton

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Now that I’m well past my first-time entrepreneur experience, I can reflect on what I learned during that period in my life. In doing so, my tips might be able to help some of you first-time entrepreneurs out there get past barriers a little more quickly, get launched faster, and avoid some pitfalls along the way.

I’ve failed many time. I can remember several times where I didn’t even have enough money in my bank account to pay off the minimum payment on my credit card.

Years later and a healthy bank account later I can share with you a few things I should have known but didn’t. Here are five tips that I wish I knew before I started that would have potentially saved me from failing several times:

1. Ask a lot of questions

There were many places where I thought I knew what I was doing that would have been better served if I had asked questions instead of assuming.

I thought if I asked questions that maybe someone might think I was stupid or might not take me seriously in the business and investment worlds.

In actual fact, I should have spoken up and asked more questions because this would have saved me time and money as well as potentially got me funding faster.

Asking questions often means you are interested in learning more and that you are interested in what others have to say, including investors, potential customers, and business partners.

These contacts take questions as actual interest and engagement in them and in the subject matter, rather than a sign of weakness.

If someone thinks you have asked a dumb question, that’s their opinion and it shouldn’t matter. You are simply gathering more information to help make important decisions and clearly you can’t know everything.

2. Don’t skip college

There have been some incredible stories of young entrepreneurs who made it while still in high school or early in college – and who found success without a degree. Even if that were to happen to you, skipping college isn’t a step I would suggest.

When I was in college, I got a good theoretical framework, general knowledge, business acumen and skill set that definitely was beneficial to being able to better run a business.

This helped me when I launched my first company to not get screwed when I got approached with a bad acquisition deal. Of course, real world experience and street smarts count for a lot, but it is good to have the foundation that college offers. Plus, I met one of my mentors and people who later went on to become business partners.

Now, many universities have top programs and services just for those interested in entrepreneurship plus offer accelerator labs and startup assistance.

Take the time – and yes, spend the money to go to college. Remember, you can still start your business at the same time like Zuckerberg and others have done.

3. Get a co-founder (and a mentor)

co-pilot

Although I first struck out on my own, I quickly learned that two are better than one. Having a co-founder provided a way to fill in those areas where I lacked knowledge, expertise, skills and connections. Just take the time to find that special person that truly complements you and where you can create and hold a shared vision.

It is not easy, but I used networking events and my other connections, including my mentor, to find a co-founder. Together, we have launched several successful business and now are building the future of cash. I could never have done this alone. Neither can you.

Next, I suggest getting a mentor. I have had several and they helped me immensely when creating a strategy, business plan, and roadmap as well as helped me visualise what I wanted to do. Not to mention my favourite mentor was there to lend emotional support when things just weren’t working. I personally find the best mentors are free and want to help because of you.

4. Celebrate the small wins (and failures)

At first, all I had my eyes on was the big prize of launching and growing a successful business. What I didn’t do was recognise the small wins along the way.

I failed to stop and celebrate those small successes as real accomplishments. It’s only now that I see how all those small wins along the way were crucial to the big win at the end that I know I missed meaningful moments that could have brought me – and those with me, some happiness. Plus, these “wins” help keep the momentum going.

Now that I know what to watch for, I celebrate these smaller wins. I recognise small wins have helped me get through the barriers and failures, too.

Then, there is the idea of celebrating the failures. Sure, it sounds like the last thing you would want to do, but there is a good reason to get yourself into this mindset.

Up until the point of my first gigantic setback and then failure, I had excelled at anything and everything I’d ever done.

As an overachiever, never losing seemed really great, but I never learned as much as I did when I failed for the first time, and that failure might not have been so devastating had I known how to take those failures in stride, learn from them, and thank my lucky stars they happened. Oh, and that next small “win” you have right after that failure will truly be celebrated.

5. Don’t forget to have fun

As a first-time entrepreneur, I was working like crazy – so focused and so determined. I was so busy that I forgot to enjoy the ride I was on. Of course, I’m still pretty intense when it comes to what I’m trying to build and I love to put in long hours, but now I realise the benefit of consciously reminding myself about the pure enjoyment of creating something from scratch and watching it grow.

Now that I have a little one at home, I really understand what it means to watch your “baby,” see how this little person develops, and see your own reflection in what you have made.

Maybe it is still hard to understand why I’m offering this type of advice at this point in my entrepreneurial life. But keep it in mind as you set off on your own personal entrepreneurial journey that there is a lot to see along the way.

If you can incorporate anything I’ve shared with you – if even a tiny piece of information that makes your way easier, it will bring me happiness and satisfaction.

While everyone’s story is different, there are some parts of this life and parts of the entrepreneurial travels where you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online invoicing company Due. John is best known as an entrepreneur and connector. He was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine and has been one of the Top 10 Most Influential PPC Experts in the World for the past three years. He currently advises several companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

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Start-up Advice

Where Should You Begin?

It goes without saying that the right people on your team make all this possible. But this is a topic for another day.

Peter Castleden

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When I first started what was to become IndieFin, I really didn’t know where to begin. I had been granted a tiny bit of funding – enough to last about a year – on the basis that I could figure out how to reinvent financial services for the digital generation.

The initial challenges were plentiful. My experience with technology was exclusively as a user. So, I had close to zero knowledge on how to execute anything that I dreamed up. I also was very aware that the financial services industry had a reputation for offering awful customer experiences, so the bar there was very low. And finally, having spent a good few years working on developing financial products in the industry, I realised the opportunities to improve on the industry’s products were vast.

While this sounds like a fairly ideal situation for an entrepreneur, and while I feel very grateful for the opportunity, the real challenge was that there were simply so many things that could be built, all of which would present radical improvements on the status quo.

First steps

A couple of us sat in a room and started putting ideas down on a white board.  We went wild, and kept coming up with more and more great ideas. In fact, we came up with both a very compelling retail investment proposition, as well as what turned out to be our insurance proposition.

Related: 4 Things Your Start-Up Needs When It Opens An Office

What this exercise revealed, was that ideas alone are pretty useless. And, too many ideas can paralyse you.

Our small team got stuck in that trap, which was made worse because we didn’t (yet) have the skills to bring any of those ideas to life.

Hard lessons

We wasted a good few months (and some money) simply working on the details of multiple ideas. We were generating lots of documentation, and a few pretty pictures, and truly believed we were making progress.

In reality, we were running on the spot. Things changed with the addition of some new talent – who brought with them a completely different approach and complementary skillsets. This combination of people changed how we were doing things, for the better, and we managed to launch something into the market a few months later.

If I could take out the key lessons from this early stage of our business, they are:

  1. Choose one thing to do, and focus all your energy on doing it. This does not mean you throw out the other good ideas… but put them on the “not yet” pile.
  2. If it’s going to take you longer than three months to build and deliver your one thing to the market, it’s still too big. Strip it down to its core, until you can confidently build it and ship it within a quarter. This may feel like you are watering down your idea, and maybe you are. However, working to a longer timeline than this will stall you, with the risk of never getting anything shipped.
  3. Launch what’s ready. You will know what can still be done to make it better. It’s scary to launch something that is nowhere near your mental picture of what it can and will be.  Do it anyway.
  4. Be ready to learn. The best market research you can conduct is with real people using something you’ve built in the real world. Sure, you run the risk of brutal feedback (and perhaps it’s because it was launched early), but the free lessons you learn will be priceless in developing version 1.2 and 1.3 and 1.4.

Related: 3 Dangerous Entrepreneurial Myths You Need To Ignore

Fear is your enemy at this stage of the business. Personally, I needed others to challenge that natural fear, and push “go”. And I’m glad I did. Most of what we built in the early versions of the product releases were not even on our original roadmap. The stuff we have built since launching, and which we are still going to build, have been inspired by our customers and the lessons we have learnt in launching something incomplete.

It goes without saying that the right people on your team make all this possible. But this is a topic for another day.

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Start-up Advice

4 Things Your Start-Up Needs When It Opens An Office

There are certain things you should definitely ensure your office has. If not before you move in, then as soon as you can set it up.  

Jessica Edgson

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So, your start-up is finally up and running. You’ve been dreaming about this moment for as long as you can remember. And now you have clients or customers, a small team of dedicated employees and you’re turning a decent profit. Which means it’s time to move out of your garage and into a proper office.

You don’t want your staff filling up your personal space at home. Your garage, although creatively decorated, simply is no longer big enough. Plus, there simply isn’t enough parking on your street. It’s time you go from a bunch of youngsters with a big idea to a proper business with a premises you’re not afraid to invite clients to.

But, first, you need to choose this office and it’s that’s not a task you should take lightly. Obviously, you want to keep that creative startup vibe you’ve worked so hard to build up, so a space in a corporate office block isn’t going to work for you. You need to choose something that conveys your independent nature and inspiration-led work ethic.

Related: The Unwritten Rules: Real Start-up Advice To Launch A Game-Changing Business

However, there are certain things you should definitely ensure your office has. If not before you move in, then as soon as you can set it up.

At least one boardroom

You and your employees may be all about a “shared space” where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. But, unfortunately, it’s time to face the fact that you’re going to need at least one boardroom in your new office. Why? Because you will now be hosting clients and investors and they will want to discuss their wants, needs and expectations in a quiet place where they can hear themselves think.

Of course, this boardroom doesn’t have to look like it belongs in a big corporate office. You can decorate however you want. If you want to give the appearance of transparency with your staff, so they don’t freak out every time you drag all your senior employees into the room, you can always have glass walls that are easy to see through.

You’ll also want to incorporate some impressive tech into your boardroom to wow your clients and investors. Interactive whiteboards and touchscreen tablets at each seating place will give the appearance that you have, literally, got technology at your fingertips.

Security you can trust

And with all the tech that comes with owning a startup, you’ll want security to protect all your assets. This is not an area where you can afford to skimp on costs and save money.

If you’re in an office park of sorts (the kind that still allows you to keep your creative vibe), there’s probably already a security guard doing the rounds regularly. However, it’s up to you to ensure you can monitor who enters and exits your premises.

A great way to do this is with a fingerprint scanner at your front door or a tag system. Just make sure you take ex-employees off the system as soon as they leave and are able to add new employees just as quickly.

Now you need to focus on internal monitoring. A video wall controller paired with strategically placed cameras around the office is always a good idea. That way if there’s ever an incident, it can be caught in real time and even recorded for later use as evidence.

You’re investing a lot of money in your business assets as well as your space, so it’s important you’re able to protect everything and everyone.

Related: Which Side Hustle Should You Try? (Infographic)

A kitchen with all the necessary appliances

office-kitchen

Yes, you’re going to need somewhere for your employees to make that coffee they need in order to work like the rockstar machines they are. But you’re also going to need a place for them to store their lunch, heat up food and even make food if necessary.

This is especially important if there’s nowhere near your office for them to purchase food. And if you want people to socialise while they eat, make sure your kitchen is big enough for a giant table where everyone can eat together. If that’s not possible, try setting aside space inside the office or even outside the office.

Space for people to move around

As a start-up made up of young people with bright ideas and a collaborative working style, you will likely want to have an open plan office. And that’s great. However, you have to ensure there’s enough space for everyone to move around.

Your team will eventually grow, so you can’t simply create space for the staff you have. You don’t people feeling cramped and uncomfortable.

It’s time for your start-up to move out of your garage and into your own office space. But that doesn’t mean you have to let go of that creative environment you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

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Start-up Advice

How To Build The Right Mindset For Start-up Success

When clarity, consistency and execution become your signal characteristics, getting what you want becomes automatic.

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Mindset matters. Whether you’re a founder, CEO, first-day-on-the-job newbie, or bold, would-be entrepreneur, if your mind isn’t right then your decisions aren’t right. And with suboptimal decision making comes suboptimal results. How you show up everyday determines how you tackle the challenges that come your way.

However, oftentimes what gets in the way is ourselves – our thoughts and emotions. If you dislike public speaking, for example, what might go through your mind if asked to present in front of an audience is that little voice in your head saying something like, “I hate speaking. I’m not good at it!” Your heart skips a couple beats, your hands become uncomfortably moist so you pat them on your pants which doesn’t exactly help your self image and then you begin stammering. Congratulations, you’ve just entered the realm of weird.

Don’t let emotion get the better of you. Stay focused on what matters by learning to separate emotion from reason so you can focus on what you need and not be swayed by what you want.

Related: Smart Money For Small Businesses

Here’s how:

Clarify winning

Having the right mindset begins with identifying what you want. Without a clear picture of what winning looks like you’ll never know if you’re on the right path, which means you can’t course correct. Take the time to clarify what “success” looks like to you.

You might want to become more disciplined, improve your focus, or learn to talk to yourself more effectively (yes, self talk is a skill). Clarity creates two things. It creates meaning, and it creates guidance for you to focus on which allows you to better communicate not only with yourself but with your team as well.

It’s easy to take leadership, teamwork or any of those “soft skills” for granted, but without them a company wouldn’t exist. Get clear on what good leadership looks like; what effective teamwork looks like.

When you know what right looks like, you can make immediate adjustments to get back on track even after they’ve gone wrong.

Make consistency a habit

Being great at anything requires two things: Consistency and effort. You have to do the work to be great, and you have to do it consistently. Muscle doesn’t build itself (trust me, I’ve tried). You don’t get stronger by doing some pushups whenever you feel like it. You improve by going to the gym consistently and doing the work to get stronger.

Leading a team or a company requires the same consistency of effort. You get better at communicating by communicating. You get better at focusing by focusing. You get better at working together by working together to get better – and doing so consistently.

Now, while consistency and effort are two critical ingredients to crushing anything in life, so too is learning. After all, you can be as consistent and as diligent as you want, but if you A) don’t have a clear definition of success, discussed above, or B) don’t learn from past mistakes, then you’re only getting to the wrong place faster. Make learning a habit by consistently learning, and you’ll develop the mindset of constant improvement.

Suspend judgment to get stuff done

SEAL training

I remember in first phase of BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training) an instructor giving us an example of the type of mindset that every SEAL has – the type of mindset that gets stuff done. He told us that if he had to go run 25 miles right then and there because it was critical to mission success, he would. He would’ve done it not because he liked running or because he was ordered to, but because it was something that just had to be done.

Related: 4 Hacks To Overcome The Struggles Of A Running A Small Biz

The takeaway is that you don’t have to like everything you do. You just have to do it (whatever it happens to be). To really make an impact in your work or in life in general, suspend judgment. When you suspend judgment you forego any emotion attached to that judgment. Then, all you have left is action versus inaction, do or do not do. It’s not easy, but then again nothing good ever is. Do it anyway.

Being right in anything requires clarity, consistency and effort. There’ll be bumps in the road, no doubt, but those bumps are what make you better.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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