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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

Start-Up Law:  I’m A Start-up Founder. Can I Pay Employees With Shares?

Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.

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Every early stage start-up company battles with restricted cash flow and not being able to pay market related salaries to their employees. Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.

Can I pay salaries with shares?

South African labour laws require that employees be paid certain minimum wages, and “remuneration”, as defined within the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Act, either means in ‘money or in kind’.  ’In kind’ does not include shares or participation in share incentive schemes, as determined by the Minister of Labour. As such, there is no room for start-ups to completely substitute paying salaries with shares or share options. However, there is no restriction in topping up below market related salaries with equity via an employee share ownership plan (‘ESOP‘).

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

Employee Share Ownership Plans

There are a variety of ways in which employees can be incentivised, and it will always be important for the start-up founders to consider what goal they wish to achieve by incentivising their employees.

ESOPs can be structured in several ways, for example: employees may be offered direct shareholding in the company, options for the acquisition of shares in the future; or alternatively, a phantom / notional share scheme can be set up.

ESOPs permit employees to share in the company’s success without requiring a start-up business to spend precious cash. In fact, ESOPs can contribute capital to a company where employees need to pay an exercise price for their share options or shares.

The primary disadvantage of ESOPs is the possible dilution of the Founder’s equity. For employees, the main disadvantage of an ESOP compared to cash bonuses or bigger salaries, is the lack of liquidity. If the company does not grow bigger and its shares does not become more valuable, the shares may ultimately prove to be worthless.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Key Features

Some key features to consider when setting up an ESOP are:

  • ELIGIBILITY – who will be allowed to participate? Full time employees? Part-time employees? Advisors?
  • POOL SIZE – what percentage of shares will be allocated to incentivise employees?
  • RESTRICTIONS – will employees be able to sell their shares immediately?
  • VESTING – will there be a minimum period that service employees will have to serve with the start-up to receive the economic benefit of his or her shares?

Employee share ownership plans are great corporate structuring mechanisms for attracting and retaining employees, as well as fostering an understanding of the company ethos and encouraging loyalty and productivity. It is essential when implementing an ESOP that all the tax implications are considered and that the correct structure and legal documentation are in place.

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Start-up Advice

Beauty Of Failure: The Art Of Embracing Rejection

In this piece I will try demystify failure, and look into why it should be embraced and not feared.

Jordan Stephanou

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“Chaotic”, “uncertain”, and “rollercoaster” are three words that would effectively describe almost any entrepreneurial journey. If death and taxes are certainties in life, then failure and taxes are the only two guarantees in business.

If failure is (to some degree at least) inevitable, why should we fear it? In this piece I will try demystify failure, and look into why it should be embraced and not feared.

1. It’s Part of the Job

We can start by separating failure into two different categories – micro and macro-failure. If a macro-failure can be considered as the overall failure and shutdown of the business, micro-failures can be seen as the day to day events that go wrong – that potential client that hangs up on your cold call; the sales pitch that gets the soft-no response of “we’ll call you”; the product launch that no one pitched up to. As Mark Manson puts it, business (as in life) is just a process of becoming less wrong over time.

Everything is a hypothesis that needs to be tested, and the process of business is applying the learnings from each hypothesis – each micro-failure – to be less wrong next time to move the business forward.

As Seth Godin says, “The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing”. Embrace being wrong. Rejection and failure are part of the job.

Related: The Art Of Embracing Rejection

2. Opportunity to Refine

There is one undoubted truth about every failure – and that is, each failure gives an experience to dissect and learn from. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius had a similar view; that to one person a situation is good, and to another, that same situation is bad – Only perception decides.

As an entrepreneur, it is important to adopt this stoic thinking of managing your perceptions. Look at situations rationally, and perceive rejections as opportunities to refine the product that the market really needs – not the product you are forcing on your market.

3. With each Failure, Fear it Less

fear-of-failureOne of the great things about rejection or failure, is that the more often you are exposed to it, the less you fear it. In fact, micro-failures can become such a common part of an entrepreneur’s day, that you stop even noticing them as failures at all.

You may look back on a day with multiple rejections from prospective clients as a normal day on the path to building a business. The goal is to get to that point as quickly as possible.

4. One Less Avenue

In the beginning, any failure will elicit a strong emotional response, however, when it becomes embraced as part of the journey, as crazy as this sounds, you may even get excited for the next rejection or micro-failure.

Why? Because each micro-failure takes away one possible path you could go down in your business. Entrepreneurs tend to be highly ambitious, highly idealistic people. This may result in wanting to do too many things, take the business in too many directions simultaneously, and run before walking.

The beauty of failure is it re-clarifies the path, stops the entrepreneurial mind from getting carried away, and brings everything back into perspective. What’s better than pursuing 1000 potential clients? Pursuing 999 higher potential clients.

Eliminate avenues that aren’t right for your business as quickly as possible so that you can spend time on providing best possible product or service for the ones that are right.

Related: 10 People Who Became Wildly Successful After Facing Rejection

5. Practical Tip to Embrace Rejection

So with all this theoretical talk out of the way, how do we get over that fear of failure to see the beauty of it? Start by watching Jia Jang’s TED talk of 100 Days of Rejection: https://www.ted.com/talks/jia_jiang_what_i_learned_from_100_days_of_rejection. The talk genuinely impacted my life. I have since implemented an annual (and much less impressive) 10 days of proactive rejection in my life. The goal is for 10 days, to do anything in any aspect of life that you would do if you weren’t ruled by fear. Ask yourself today, “what would I do if I wasn’t scared?”

The goal is to actively seek rejection to remove the power of fear from damaging your business’s potential.

Finally, I believe we should get our heads around the idea of celebrating our failures. Go for a drink as a team and give a toast to that failure even more than if it was a success. After all, if life is more about the journey than the destination, surely we should celebrate and cherish every event of the journey along the way?

Every event that happens will be critically important in forming the empire of a business that you are building. Take a step back, see the big picture, and smile whenever it doesn’t go as planned. See the beauty of failure.

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Start-up Advice

6 Resources For Start-ups Looking For Funding

Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

Josh Althuser

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Anyone who has ever considered starting their own business, or is currently in the process of doing so, knows that every little bit helps when it comes to making ends meet. Part of the charm of start-up culture is the low-budget creative atmosphere that seems to continually fuel innovation. But, eventually you’re going to have to keep the lights on and water running, and you can’t do that with creativity alone.

Whether you are a business that is just starting out, or already well on your way, there are plenty of online platforms that offer start-ups advice and funding opportunities. Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

1. Kickstarter

kickstarter-logoAt one point it seemed that anyone with a clever idea could make a video showing why the world should invest in the next big thing. While a lot of crazy projects have gotten funded over the years, utilising a crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter continues to be a viable way to get your project off the ground. Of course, if you want to reach your funding goals, it’s best that you have already done your market research, have a solid plan, and treat crowdfunding like a global VC.

Visit Kickstarter here.

Related: 4 Tips To Secure Funding For Your Start-up

2. Toptal

toptal-logoThose who are new to the start-up world might not know exactly where to start when it comes to looking for funding. While the freelance economy has grown immensely in the last 5 years, it’s important to know where to look.

Platforms like Toptal offer a wide range of freelance professionals that specialise start-up funding. Start-ups seeking a consultant on Toptal can also rest easy knowing that they carefully screen each candidate, ensuring they have the necessary professional background and experience to guarantee a successful project. 

Visit Toptal here.

3. Appbackr

appbackrIf you couldn’t already tell by the name, appbacker is definitely worth checking out if you are a start-up working in app technology for both Android and Iphone. The platform helps people discover different apps through the crowdsourcing model. Investors can scroll through apps from around the world, and if they like what they see, they can choose to invest. Funding incentive is based on an investor’s ability to purchase an app at the wholesale price, eventually making a profit once the app starts flying off the shelves in the official app store.

Visit Appbackr here.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

4. Gust

Gust logoInvestors are more likely to invest locally, which is why Gust is an attractive option for start-ups around the world, as they represent over eighty countries worldwide. Founded by a team of investors and lawyers, Gust knows their way around the start-up world.

With portals for both start-ups and investors, the platform seamlessly connects those seeking funds and those looking to invest. Start-ups can create a profile on Gust, and also have access to tools and tips to help them regulate finances and legal matters. 

Visit Gust here.

5. AngelList

angellist-logoNot just for investment, although that is a major part of the platform, AngelList is also a great place to find start-up jobs as well as recruitment. Those start-ups that are looking to expand can greatly benefit from this feature, while also getting their name out there to potential investors.

Their syndicate platform, led by technology experts make room for those who are looking to invest the chance to apply to a lead or directly invest in a fund.

Visit AngelList here.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

6. Seedrs

seedrs-logoFrom top corporations to big name accelerators, Seedrs aims to simplify the funding process for investors. Providing a vast network of investors from 48 different countries, who tap into an additionally impressive network of start-ups, there is plenty of room for collaboration on this platform. Seeders also encourages investors and start-ups to continue their relationship after the transaction is made. Their online and offline networks aim keep both start-ups and investors in the loop.

Depending at what stage of development your company has currently reached, exploring various funding options available to you is a worthwhile endeavour. Rather than blindly pitching investors, investigating each potential platform, whether it’s crowdfunding or a hiring a freelance funding expert, will save you time and resources so you can focus on the right type of investment based on your needs.

Visit Seedrs here.

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