1. Get your hands dirty
The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty.
We all skim through self help books, read blogs and watch videos about Entrepreneurs all around the world and hope that one day, we will make it in life the same way they did. One day, we will make that first million dollars and distribute that kickass product. Well, if you don’t get down to work and start getting your hands dirty, then that “One day” will never come.
Entrepreneurship is not about joining competitions and writing tons of Business plans. Entrepreneurship is not about reading and dreaming about the next big thing. If you don’t put your ideas to work, then all you’re doing is just fooling yourself. The best way to move towards an entrepreneurial spirit is to leave a trace and produce something. It doesn’t matter if you blog, make videos, launch demos, create code, 3D print that new gen pen or get a team together and start designing stuff, so long as you get something out to the open and label it with your name, you’re on the right track.
People will judge not based on how passionate you are, but based on how much you’ve already done. You will learn much more from practice than you will learn from listening to an audio file. Interacting with people, facing the frustration of rejection and working along with 4 people and managing them is the true entrepreneurial education you need, so don’t waste time and start being an entrepreneur instead of reading about it. Practice makes perfect, right?
2. Work Smart, not Hard
“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
Lazy you said? I am sure this is not the advice you learned in school or at home, but believe it or not, Bill Gates is the one who said so. The morale is that in the life of an entrepreneur, we have too much to handle and so many commitments to attend to that if we decide to work hard on everything, we’ll just end up with a nervous breakdown and a bankruptcy document on our desk. Entrepreneurs are smart, that’s why they understand that the best way to handle too much workload is by finding shortcuts. Never think you can be a perfectionist in everything, because you can’t. We’re only able to excel in one thing at a time, so instead of working hard, it is big time you start working smart. Try to think like a lazy person and think what they would do if they were in your situation. Remember the days when you would ask your brother to do the laundry instead of you?
Lazy people outsource a lot of their work, and so do entrepreneurs. If there is someone who can do it for you and you think it is financially viable, then go for it. No one has time to create a company, deal with the legal paperwork, design the website and look for clients. Be the lazy manager and oversee other people, be the ideas guy and sit back, get people to do the job and count the dollars. Too many emails to go through and keep track of? Get someone who can read them, summarize them for you and put a brief on your desk: congrats, you just saved the time reading 100 emails and did that instead in 5 min.
You know what Tony Gaskin said? “If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to help build theirs”. So be the guy who hires other people to get his dream built. You only have 24 hours a day, and most likely around 7 hours only to spend on quality work, so invest those precious hours in making what you’re best at, and leave the rest for somebody else.
3. Hire the best
“Never hire someone who knows less than you do about what he’s hired to do.”
– Malcolm Forbes
Your company or startup is not the name you put in that label, it’s not the product you make and it definitely isn’t that bunch of legal papers that say MyCompany L.L.C.
Your startup is the people who work for you, because without them you’re nothing. The question now is: Do you want to entrust your company’s future and success to someone who is not up to the task? Hell no, so you better hire the best people out there who can take your work to the next level.
Bet on people, and always be ready to put a lot on the table to attract the brightest talent you can afford. Your employees are an investment as much as your latest purchase of that stock or bond: you must be sure that they’re only going to go upwards and that their performance at the highest level will be guaranteed. Do whatever it takes to keep them happy and keep them productive. If you have to put that new playstation in the lobby, do it.
If you have to give them a team retreat in the Caribbean, do it! If you have to pay them 1$ more than your competitors highest pay, do it!
Never spare an effort into surrounding yourself with the best, because the best is what sells more; it is what attracts most clients. If you’re aiming for a couple of grands, then maybe getting your neighbor who is average at coding onboard is not much of a big deal. But if you’re the kind of entrepreneur who aims for millions and billions, then there is no room for mistake. Go to Stanford, spend a week in Silicon Valley, hire a headhunter, do whatever it takes to find your next Wozniak or Sandberg, because it’s in a world where companies like Google and Apple are around, standing out is almost mission impossible. If you want the odds to be stacked in your favor, don’t think twice and go all in.
4. Foster commitment through stakes and shares
Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
– Vince Lombardi
Most of you have seen “The Social Network”, right? Remember that scene when Mark hires new programmers and offers them shares in the company? Remember when he gives Eduardo 30% and his roommates who write code 5%? Guess what, he was not being generous but strategic. Most companies today understand the power of offering employees a bite of the pie, and high executives in most multinationals and financial houses are shareholders in their respective companies.
This strategy helps you on two fronts: first it allows you to hire people even when you don’t have a startup capital and cash around, and second it allows you to foster the commitment of your employees to the company’s success. Facebook offered shares in the company to the painter who was supposed to decorate Facebook HQ. In your case it might not be the decorator but the new programmer, the new CFO, your Marketing director or a potential investor. Your company is an asset, it is money after all, so when most of us start their venture with just 500 $ in the bank account, it becomes an imperative to find alternative payment methods to hire the best. Shares are a great way to get people onboard without paying them in the early stages, but just make sure you are still a majority shareholder, you don’t want to wake up one day and find yourself kicked out of your own company.
Moreover, how can you ensure that your employees will work hard to help your company grow? Who can guarantee that they will work genuinely to boost your financial standing instead of just playing around and waiting for that check at the end of the month to come true? One answer: Make them part of it! If they are part of the company, if they are shareholders in your startup, then their success will be tied to the company’s performance. Nobody wants to lose on money, and everyone will do whatever it takes to add a couple of zeros to their paycheck. Capitalize on people’s selfishness and leverage it for your own. It works wonders in Wall Street already, and even better in the startup world. So don’t let your ego fool you and be ready to share your pie with others, it will only make everyone’s slice bigger.
5. Invest in your Marketing
“There’s no bigger growth engine than marketing, but at the moment it’s an under-leveraged asset.”
– Scott Davis
Regardless of how great your product is, how amazing your services are, you will not make the buzz until you get your Marketing operations going. Quality alone is not enough, and Apple is a great example for such claim. However amazing MacBooks are or iPhones appear to be, they are still investing heavily in making their products pop up in all screens and across all social media platforms. Marketing, as opposed to advertising, is more than just buying ad space in a Magazine or a TV cable.
Marketing is all what you do, what you say and how you behave as a company. It is about how you model your brand and how you build your visual identity. Don’t spend millions to be on a billboard, spend millions to create a culture around your product or service. Make people love your startup, because a one-time client is not much, but a loyal one is a constant stream of revenue pouring in your bank accounts. Don’t aim to sell, but aim to please. Offer your clients complimentary services, give them an experience they will be happy to pay for. Make them ask for more, and one way to do that is show them that you care!
Ask for your client’s feedback, and know what they think about your company. Don’t turn your back once they put the money on the counter, but keep following up on them and offer them a quality customer support. An email sent asking about how they find your product, or whether they need help using it, or just thanking them for trusting your services costs only a minute or two, but the rewards you reap from it are priceless.
Success lies in the details, so the more peculiar you are about refining your brand, the better you will resonate with your clients. From the offices and how you decorate them, to the genuine smiles your employees put up every morning at work, everything matters in your Marketing and your brand culture.
One more thing: Don’t produce only products, but produce content as well. Give your clients and your audience something to consume when they’re not using your products. Whether it is creating a short documentary, or blogging under your company’s name, or setting a great concert for the neighborhood, there is no shortage of how creative you can get with your content production. Once you start implementing this strategy, then people will realize that you care about something more than a dollar earned, you care about the people putting those dollars in your pocket. After all, a company is nothing without its customers, so be careful how you treat them and how you project your brand to them.
Go on social media, interact with users, answer their questions, invite them to your offices, get together with them over a cup of coffee, send your employees to serve a good cause every Thursday night, contribute to good causes, put your name next to things that people associate with positivity. Don’t pass as the arrogant and greedy corporate monster that runs after people’s pockets. Why? Because if you do so, people will leave you the moment you fall or make a wrong step. But if you build a culture of loyalty, the people will stick around you in times of success and failures. You’ll be sure that when times go rough, your clients will sacrifice a bit to help you recover. Make your clients your biggest allies, and your greatest asset.
6. Sacrifice Now for Later
Live some of your life like nobody won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like nobody can.
You’re an Entrepreneur, you’re just starting and you don’t have enough money to make ends meet? You have a huge college workload and countless assignments to finish? You cannot spend an hour working on your startup without falling back on your course load? You have to pull all-nighters so that you can push your startup forward or Skype with your teammates across oceans? Your friends tell you that you are wasting your time and energy, and your parents ask you to focus on your studies instead of that gibberish you write on your computer?
Believe it or not, the life of an entrepreneur is not all party, money, success and fame. It is a tough ride, and if you’re not patient and willing to sacrifice today for tomorrow, then you’re not meant to be an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, you pledge to live some of your life like nobody won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like nobody can.
As a startup owner, you can’t expect to reach your goals in the first few days or months, or even years. A startup’s life is like a hockey cross: the progression at the beginning is slow, you don’t turn in much money and you almost burn all your capital, but then at some point you shoot up, you gain visibility, you attract big names, you make crazy sales and your startup can finally breathe.
You have to be able to survive that initial period of painful growth; you have to be willing to put in efforts without being rewarded, to inject money although you’re just going in the red. If you believe that your startup is the next big thing, they you should be able to wait until your vision unfolds. No pain No gain, remember? It’s like a workout; so don’t expect to grow muscles in the first week of hitting the gym!
7. Partner with Big names
Have you launched your company or you have an idea for one? Well, as much as intellectual property is a coveted concept, you have to be willing to share the credit for your creations with others. We all want to be the sole owners of our startups, we all want to make it to the top alone without reaching to anyone else, but the truth is, it is far more helpful to get people onboard and let them be part of it than running the marathon alone.
The African proverb goes like this: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Don’t be too skeptical to reach out to others who can help, whether it is another startup or a big company. You might be good at something but there will always be someone else better at it than you. Building credibility, a reputation and a client base is hard, so why not make use of an established platform that has all these assets and use it to your advantage. Big companies are driven by the innovations of their small departments and the progress made by small startups. You have something they need and they own something you need. It is a win-win situation after all, and you don’t have to give up everything and let the big fish swallow you. If they want an equity stake in your company, give it. If they want their name on your platforms as a sponsor or partner, do it. You will gain access to a wider audience if you choose to let them chip in, and that will help you get over the painful growth period much quicker than if you struggle alone.
Let me take it even further: Sometimes give your products and services for free to big names! Let me explain: you just launched a great magazine and you need an audience? Print it and distribute it freely in high-end stores and hotel lobbies. Give that Tech company free online copies so that they can share it in their newsletter with their customers. It costs you money, but it is a priceless investment because you are having access to the biggest asset a company can have: audience. A big brand’s name stapled next to your logo is an added value for your reputation, so don’t be afraid of letting them share the spotlight. What strikes you better: an unknown startup or a tech group with a twitter endorsement? See my point! It can help you build your brand, monetize your product and attract more attention from VCs and sponsors.
8. Keep your finances secret
“Don’t bargain yourself down before you get to the table.”
– Carol Frohlinger
They always teach it in high corporate circles but merely in college. Your finances are a representation of your negotiation margins. The more money people know you have, the more they are likely to ask for when negotiating with you. Keeping your finances secret helps you gain leverage with potential partners and it gives you the upper hand in discussions with contractors. Don’t give them the chance to think of you as the golden chicken. You may have golden eggs, but if they know it, then they’ll all want a piece of it.
When hiring new people or working with sub contractors, tell them you’re on a tight budget since you’re just a startup, that way they will always charge you their lower boundary minimum. Tell them you have millions sitting in your account and next thing you know they just doubled the price.
Services are not priced based on their intrinsic value, but on the consumer’s willingess to pay (Basic economics). Keep your books tight and on check, and let the CFO be either you or someone you would trust with your life. One word out and you lose your leverage in the market. Hide you cards when you play Business, it’s a wild poker party out there!
9. Reach to the top guy
They told me I cannot get an answer from James Altucher, a millionaire Hedge Fund manager, serial entrepreneur and best seller because apparently a kid in college like me can’t get the attention of someone like James. Guess what? I decided to go ahead and shoot him an email, and 5 minutes later I got an answer. In the life of an entrepreneur, assuming is a sin. Never think that you cannot get to the top guy, never stand back because you’re not worthy of a Billionaire’s attention. If they say you can’t and you listen to them, the odds are that they’re right, 100% of the time. But if you go ahead and don’t care whether he or she is the president of the USA or the founder of Facebook, you can be sure that there is a possibility for you to get an answer and potentially a breakthrough. VIPs and celebrities are not god figures. They as well understand the importance of reaching out to others and helping whenever possible. There are some who would go out of their way to help a student get his startup off the ground simply because he was brave enough to send them an email or a letter. If most people think that it is not possible to get an audience with the big shots, then the odds are in your favor if you do so because there are not many to compete with. Entrepreneurs are risk takers, adventurers, bold players, so getting yourself together and tracking down that VC or CEO you want to talk to and trying all means to reach him is a trait that will make you part of the entrepreneurship exclusive club.
The story doesn’t end here. Even when you get to reach the big shots, don’t celebrate yet. You have to make an impression and show them that you are not there to joke or waste their time. Don’t be the shy guy who mumbles when he sits in a fancy office or meets someone who makes 8 figures. Show them that you are their equal, give them a reason to see you as a reflection of who they were when they were your age. Don’t underestimate the power of looking and sounding mature and professional in your 20s when you meet high execs. That’s something I learned when I spoke at the age of 18 in the European parliament. Grown ups will show admiration and awe when a kid projects the image of a seasoned 40 years old whether through his public speaking skills, his talents or his sharpness. Maintain eye contact, have a firm handshake, don’t let them look down on you. Make them understand that they just met the next Steve jobs or the next Zuckerberg, and don’t let them look away, because you’re the prize in the room!
10. Don’t be afraid of change or failure
Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.
– Lance Armstrong
In the life of an enterprise, there will be ups and downs, successes and failures, times where you are on top of the world and times when you feel like you’re about to hit the bottom. An entrepreneur understands that you cannot have it all the time the way you want, and so you have to be ready when things turn sour.
Always have a plan B by diversifying your finances and your clients. Never rely on one stream of income and never bind the reputation and name of your company to one single product. In entrepreneurship, you have to be ready to change your vision and strategy, and adapt to the needs and dynamics of the market. Every entrepreneur at one point in his life will encounter that moment when he needs to pivot, change the direction and the nature of his company to avoid crashing down. Don’t panic if the beta of your software failed miserably. Don’t despair if your sales are in the one digit for weeks. What you have to do instead is to understand what doesn’t work, why didn’t clients respond the way you supposed they would, why isn’t your app a success among mobile users. Sometimes failures are the greatest sources of inspiration, and they are an opportunity for you to understand what doesn’t work and how to improve it. You get to understand your audience better and the chance to react accordingly. Identify what parts of your product are not working and cut them off. Single out the feature that people found interesting and spend the next few weeks building on that USP (Unique Selling Point) that your product has.
Look up to the pharmaceutical industry: they spend billions on R&D, sometimes their products are not even allowed to go on sale, and yet the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most successful sectors you could encounter. They understand that failure and trials are a necessity for success, and that’s what keeps them going. You may lose money, energy and enthusiasm when you don’t quite get where you want, but once you do, all those grumpy days become history. The success that comes out of a failure is usually so great it eclipses all the previous losses you’ve made.
Entrepreneurship is not a science, so treat it that way. If you didn’t fail, then you didn’t succeed. Celebrate failure because of the learning experiences it offers. Don’t fail for the sake of failing and fitting the cliché of an entrepreneur. Fail to learn, fail to find the way to success. Don’t be afraid of shifting and changing your focus and your product’s features, a dynamic startup is a healthy startup.
Failure is a temporary pain, and as Lance Armstrong puts it, pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.