Don’t follow every advice you get.
Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. It’s a chip on your shoulder. It’s a mindset that says maybe the experts aren’t actually right. Maybe if I have the audacity to do the exact opposite of what everyone’s saying, and if I do that enough, one time it might work.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you can’t follow every catch piece of business advice. You have to create your own business advice that tailors to you. You have to make your own hypotheses, test your own assumptions, and take your own risks.
Hard work isn’t enough.
Business success is not about hard work at all. Entrepreneurs are not athletes where you can train and train and train on a specific skill and over enough time, reach mastery. Entrepreneurs live in a world of risk where one slight unpredictable act of chance can result in devastating failure or spectacular success. Successes in business often come down to a tiny moment in time where a decision is made for some reason that drastically impacts the trajectory of the business. From that point forward, momentum kicks in, and success comes far easier. The irony is that quite often that decision is to stop working hard. To stop persisting. To give up. Dan wrote,
I’ve given up on so many ideas as an entrepreneur that it’s painful to think about. I must have started 30 or 40 projects or businesses in the last 12.5 years as an entrepreneur. Almost all of them were shut down one way or another. Some I’d spent years working on and tens of thousands of dollars on. I did it again and again until I found myself in the fortunate position of having two businesses that were good. If I kept working hard and persisting, I never would have found those businesses. I had to give up on bad ideas to open up the possibility of discovering good ideas.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
“Which logo should I use?” “What service should I offer?” “Should I offer this person equity and co-founder status?” “Should I lease this space?” “How do I sell more on Instagram?” “Where do I find the best staff?” The truth is, I don’t like answering these questions, and I avoid them at all costs because I DON’T KNOW! Unlike business gurus who profit from selling advice, I’m not prepared to pretend I do. There are just far too many variables. Any entrepreneur who claims to have some kind of formula for success is either delusional or dishonest or both.
No one has it all figured out.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford.
Your business problems probably don’t have a simple quantifiable answer that an outsider can provide. Next time you have a challenge or a question in your business, consider this: There may not be anyone who actually knows the answer to this. This is not being pessimistic; this is becoming an entrepreneur.
There is very little chance that a casual consumer of your product would know any better. In fact, this motto is so problematic now that customers have become so powerful that they think they can run businesses. But customers don’t understand the risks and what’s on the line. Sometimes you have to make people unhappy to save your business. Sometimes you have to choose the side of your staff over your customers because it’s easier to get more customers than it is to get more great staff. Sometimes, as Henry Ford apparently claimed, customers don’t know what they want. One quote, which I know is correct, is this gem from Steve Jobs: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Steve Jobs
Do not delegate your entrepreneurial responsibilities to your customers. A good business has a customer that is happy. It doesn’t mean they are always right.
You can’t fail indefinitely.
Entrepreneurs are not scientists. Scientists get funding from governments to run experiments. The experiments are costly. If they fail, they learn something; if they succeed, they learn something. When they run out of funding, they seek more and do it all again. Failure and success are the same things to a scientist. The scientist is only motivated by learning more about whether their hypothesis is right or wrong, so failure or success in any given experiment will take them closer to that goal. For most people, entrepreneurship is not like that. There isn’t an endless string of generous donors looking to throw money at experiments, so most entrepreneurs are drastically underfunded. When you use your limited resources to start randomly testing certain hypotheses, you are going to run out of money very quickly.
Don’t focus on failure.
It’s cool for people like J.K. Rowling to be at rock bottom and come back to become the world’s richest and most successful and well-known author. It’s a great story, so we celebrate it. But what of the people who stay at rock bottom? What about the people who enjoy being at rock bottom? What if all of these failure stories are breeding a group of entrepreneurs who are so obsessed with failure that they actually forget the point? Which, of course, is to succeed, not to fail. The biggest problem I have with failure is the same problem I have with entrepreneurial advice in general. And that is the assumption that the entrepreneur actually knows the reason for success or failure. With failure, it’s well accepted that you can learn from it and move forward. But in my experience, sometimes things just don’t work. In fact, most of the time things don’t work. You can either analyze the shit out of it, or even worse, actually embrace it and become it, or you can just accept it didn’t work and move on — ideally to success (eventually). If you focus too much on the failure, your attention is diverted from the real goal, which is, of course, not to fail.
Market validation is a myth.
Think of the types of questions that some of the biggest and most impactful startups would have had to ponder to get where they are. Tesla – Will people buy a car that costs the same as a Nissan Pulsar, that is faster than a Porsche, and costs virtually $0 to run? Yeah, I think so. AirBnB – If people could easily book accommodation on their phones in private places that were much bigger and more interesting than hotels and pay less, would they? Of course, we know they would. Uber – If people didn’t need to wait up to three hours, risk getting assaulted, get ripped off, and travel in a smelly car home, and instead they could press a button on their phone, get a friendly person to turn up within minutes in a nice car and be driven home for 40% of the price, would they? I don’t need to answer that. Validation has become the ultimate excuse for the modern entrepreneur. Meanwhile, the people who have really disrupted industries and built massive recognizable brands have instead focused on the task at hand for most entrepreneurs, which is to sell their idea and put it into action. They don’t need validation; they don’t need permission; they just need to get to work. For most entrepreneurial.
Entrepreneurs are innovators.
Amazon operating for over 20 years without making a profit. I heard about Uber’s goal of drastically improving the experience of being moved around, while also reducing the cost by 40%. I heard about AirBnB’s idea of making it much easier to find good quality accommodations, all the while reducing the price significantly. I heard about Elon Musk’s dream of building a $35,000 car that would be faster than a Porsche and would be virtually free to run.
The best entrepreneurs who are building the most exciting businesses right now, are not selling info products and not offering coaching services. I decided to learn from what people do, chase the stories of what people are working on, and avoid anyone who put themselves out there as an expert, especially those doing so by selling information products and memberships. These entrepreneurs were truly innovating. When you innovate, prices come down; they don’t go up.
I challenge you to create a better product, a better experience, a better brand, a better offer—at a lower price. That’s entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs are designers.
Don’t create a product or branding material without giving a lot of thought to design. It’s important, and it’s a core entrepreneurial skill in the age of excellence. However, most people don’t have a good eye for design. The design of their logos and websites proves that, and their constant need for external validation confirms it.
Good entrepreneurs are almost universally design-driven. Look at the way Steve Jobs executed on his vision for Apple and worked relentlessly with Jony Ive on the design of their products. Look at the key hires made by Elon Musk at Tesla and the amount of thought and design brilliance that goes into his cars, his rockets, his tunnel concepts, even his prototype space suits. No one is going into space on Elon’s watch without looking good! The best startups in the world hire world-class designers first. They even give up substantial equity to designers and quite often have a designer on the founding team.