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What You Should Know Before Starting Your Very First Business

What You Should Know Before Starting Your Very First Business

This answer found in Quora by Oliver Emberton helps to describe what all first time entrepreneurs should know before starting their very first business.

11 years ago I was an impoverished student about to graduate with £14k in debt. I did what any sensible person would do in this situation, and started my own business.

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I co-founded with someone who proved to be less than ideal when he punched me in the face during our second board meeting. He owned 49% of my company. Our first annual profit – £200 – was barely enough to buy one iPod touch.

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    A decade later I’m almost embarrassingly happy and successful, but the road there was long and winding. Here’s some of what I learned:

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    On you as a founder

    • Firstly, do it.
      Every single person – from my family to my closest friends – ultimately doubted that this was a good idea. (Many started being supportive, and changed their minds when times got harder). If you feel compelled to do it, don’t let anyone stop you, and don’t expect anyone to support you either.
    • Start with total brutal honesty.
      I’d say this is Rule #1 in life. Everybody deludes themselves in some way – and in groups it can often be easiest to delude each other. But the more honestly you can see the world, the better your decisions will be. Doubt yourself. Question everything. If someone put a gun to your head, could you tear holes in your ideas? When your plans can withstand that, they’re probably pretty good.
    • Practice saying no. A lot.
      You will almost certainly want to do a hundred different things. Almost all business founders are like this by nature – they see opportunity everywhere and change the world (I’m certainly no exception). But this is a terrible way to run a business. You need to focus on doing a very small number of things really well, and that means saying no to 1,000 other things. This is harder than you think, and far more powerful than you can imagine.
    • Growing past 2-3 people will cripple most founders.
      Most small businesses are started by a person who’s good at what their business does: accountants start accountancy companies, bakers start bakeries; I was a geek who – at first – started a web design company. These people will find it extremely hard to grow past 2-3 people; most often they struggle to hire someone ‘as good as themselves’, and end up tired and frustrated trying to do everything. If you only read one business book, get the E-Myth Revisited and learn what to do about it, or at least skim these free notes.

    On your business idea

    • Don’t be afraid to change tacks.
      There is a saying that no business plan survives first contact with the customer. Nintendo started by making playing cards. Facebook was designed for university students. My own company built websites for 10 years before changing to software. Changing direction doesn’t have to make you weak or indecisive – you may have to adjust to find your perfect niche. Just try to do it early and avoid doing it too often.
    • Just one. Powerful. Idea.
      You can blend complementary ideas (e.g. a restaurant with comedy shows) but not totally disparate ones (a restaurant that sells management consulting services).  When you start pick out just a few key features of your idea, and focus on making those amazing. Say no to everything else.
    • A successful business is either loved or needed.
      It’s exceedingly rare to be both, although as owners we always like to think our companies are loved! (see Rule #1: be honest with yourself). Ensure you’re essential or utterly irresistible. Most often if you sell to businesses you have to be needed – like accountants, lawyers, web designers; if you sell to consumers you need to be loved – like iPhones, movie theatres, cosmetics.
    • Imagine being an outside investor.
      Pretend to be someone with a lot of self-made money but not much time. Meet yourself right now, and listen to your own explanation of your business. What do you think? Does it sound like a good investment? Once again – be honest. (Sidenote: it’s ok to have a business which isn’t planning to be a big financial success. But very few entrepreneurs believe they’re starting one of those).
    • Align with your passions.
      True passion is infectious. It will win over doubting prospects. It can make staff loyal to you. Passion will give you boundless energy and keep you going when others would throw in the towel. Ultimately if you build a business around something you’re not passionate about – and I made this mistake – you’ll wake up one day and think “what have I gotten myself into?”

    On marketing

    • Marketing isn’t about changing people’s minds.
      Your job isn’t to convince people to want what you’re offering. It’s to help your prospects convince themselves that what you’re offering will help them get what they really want.
    • A few things not to skimp upon.
      Your logo, tagline and website are utterly essential; they’re the first impression you’ll make to most people, and your only message while you’re not there. (If you sell face-to-face to businesses add business cards to that list). If you need professional help, get it. Don’t be tempted to hire your teenage nephew, or do it yourself. This is akin to being your own lawyer, and equally disastrous. You don’t have to pay a fortune – just keep your requirements simple and emphasise quality over quantity. Don’t worry about letterheads or compliment slips or custom email footers or any of that crap until you’re making money.
    • Advertising is a tax you pay for being unremarkable.
      A good idea is easy to sell; a great one will sell and spread itself. The harder you have to work to explain and sell what you do, the more your idea needs work. There are two solutions: simplify what you do, or change tacks entirely. You won’t sell more of a bad idea by making it more complicated.

    Everyone has to find their own path, but you can save yourself a lot of time and stress by learning from the best and brightest who have come before you. I highly recommend reading just three brilliant books: The E-Myth Revisited7 Habits of Highly Effective People and the Personal MBA; they’re worth at least a year’s head start by themselves.

    Everyone I know who has ever tried had a single common refrain: they wish they did it sooner. If you think it’s your calling, what’s your excuse?

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    Brian Lee

    Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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    Last Updated on May 15, 2019

    10 Most Successful Entrepreneurs and What We Can Learn from Them

    10 Most Successful Entrepreneurs and What We Can Learn from Them

    Apart from making crucial decisions for their own businesses, entrepreneurs innovate and grow their ideas. Albeit there being no cookie-cutter answer that fits everyone’s experiences, taking a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs today, you might spot some similar traits and characteristics.

    Starting and nurturing a business entails a great amount of hard work and commitment. However, for aspiring entrepreneurs who are prepared to dedicate themselves to their vision, here are 10 most successful entrepreneurs you can learn from:

    1. Melanie Perkins: Know Your Worth and Keep Trying

      Melanie Perkins founded Canva, a Sydney-based business valued at $1Billion having successfully raised a number of rounds of successful funding and boasting more than 10 Million users in 179 countries.[1]

      She told BBC that one of the biggest challenges she faced getting into the business was talking about her company’s accomplishments when she first got to Silicon Valley. She attributed this difficulty to a cultural difference where Australians tend to ‘talk down’ their achievements and this would slow down her fundraising progress for a few years.

      Despite hundreds of rejections, Melanie emerged three years later with a much clearer strategy and stronger investor pitch that prompted a series of fundraising rounds netting the company $82Million of funding in total.[2]

      2. Bill Gates: Keep Learning and Exploring

        If you don’t know Bill Gates, you likely know the company he founded – Microsoft.

        Bill Gates’ story is a prime example of nurturing an idea that might seem out of this world but make sense in the future. One of the most successful entrepreneurs in history did not complete his degree at Harvard University to pursue a vision that the technology would soon become the future.

        He told a white lie to Altair, saying that he had made a computer program for them, therefore pushing himself to create a system that would change modern history.

        “The most important speed issue is convincing everyone that the company’s survival depends on moving as fast as possible.”

        Gates’ success is built on self-improvement and the seeds of an idea.

        3. Elon Musk: Never Stop Innovating

          Traditional thinking suggests that in order to become a successful entrepreneur, one must focus in a single field or industry.

          Elon Musk, however, breaks that rule.

          Today, the multifaceted tech entrepreneur, investor, and engineer advocates for the diversification of skills and businesses by delving into various fields of interest.

          When done right, skills in a single domain can be carried over then applied into contrasting industries to create something new the world might need. Musk owes his accomplishments to a constant thirst for knowledge.

          Having birthed Tesla and a myriad of products across the arenas of aeronautics and software design, Musk continues to evolve as an entrepreneur and plans to innovate for the long haul.

          4. Richard Branson: Develop People First

            British entrepreneur Richard Branson founded Virgin Records in the early 1970s. Virgin Records has since grown into the Virgin Group, today responsible for over 400 companies.

            The billionaire is strongly particular about working with a team that shares his core values and aspirations.

            Branson believes that managing a business can become taxing, thus he acknowledges his employees for putting in the effort that they have.

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            A good leader knows how to raise morale for positive productivity. Utilising emotional intelligence and compassion is a game changer in seeing results within a team.

            Branson’s supports the idea of nurturing a positive work environment, with the belief that credentials must go hand-in-hand with an enthusiasm for work.

            5. Jeff Bezos: A Relentless Focus on Customer Satisfaction

              Having founded Amazon, Jeff Bezos is known to be one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs. The e-commerce pioneer fixates himself on angry customers with the belief that a business’s loopholes are found in the experiences of unsatisfied customers.

              For the 8th year in a row, customers have ranked Amazon as the number one in customer service (according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index).

              While numerous companies ignore unhappy customers, Bezos found success in learning from reviews and surveys. By focusing on customer service, Amazon shows they care, both for their customers and for rising above their competitors.

              While praise and recognition are signs that a business is accelerating, criticism is an opportunity to improve a product or a service.

              6. Mark Zuckerberg: Start Small, Think Big

                Valued at over 55 billion dollars today, Mark Zuckerberg built the first version of what would become a social networking giant in his Harvard University dorm room. As one of the world’s youngest entrepreneurs, Zuckerberg undoubtedly took countless calculated risks to get his brilliant idea to its current status with 2.38 billion active monthly users.

                “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”

                He’s always daring to explore with a fearless mindset.

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                The young tech entrepreneur never shied away from innovating outside of the box. Soon after Facebook became a hit to users and advertisers, big corporations took interest in buying Facebook from Zuckerberg.

                However, he took the risk and decided to stay with his creation. Turning down billions of dollars offered by Yahoo CEO, Terry Semel, he envisioned turning his brainchild into something much bigger than what it already was then.

                7. Steve Jobs: Live Your Own Dreams

                  Steve Jobs lived a rocky path all his life and an aspect of which is a tumultuous career.

                  The founder of Apple endorsed his beliefs on the temporality of life and limitations of time. He preached about the importance of working on the very legacies people wish to leave behind, an achievement he’s undoubtedly etched into the the archives of human history.

                  Never one to hide under someone’s shadow, Jobs did not live by anybody else’s principles so he formed his own. He tirelessly dedicated himself to building a unique brand of products that became the benchmark for contemporary technology.

                  After his highs and lows through his brief battle with cancer, Jobs concludes with yet another lesson to takeaway from his remarkable life. “No matter how much money you have, even the richest man can’t buy time.”

                  8. Warren Buffett: Balance is Essential to Success

                    Despite being the third wealthiest person in the world, Warrant Buffett sported a frugal lifestyle for most of his life.

                    After buying a house in Omaha, Nebraska for just above 31,000 dollars, he has lived there since 1958. As a leading investor and a founder at Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett believes in setting aside an amount to save and spend only on necessities.

                    With a long term goal as a top priority in mind always, treating oneself can be sustainable once in a while. He advices to save money by deciding first and foremost what aspects to scrimp on and what aspects to splurge on to ensure a happy and balanced lifestyle.

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                    9. Jack Ma: Never Give up

                      On every journey to success, everybody stumbles and arrives at roadblocks. Some more than most, like Jack Ma, who survived countless rejections and failures only to get back up and brave every storm.

                      Ma is the founder of multinational technology conglomerate Alibaba Group. Despite being rejected to Harvard after every one of his 10 applications, Ma was never defeated.

                      His grit and tenacity is a fine testament to the fact that grades do not determine a future. While qualifications on paper are important, the development of skills and an attitude is just as helpful in making a recipe for success.

                      Despite finding himself in the verge of bankruptcy in the 1990s, Jack Ma possessed the resilience to put one foot in front of the other until he finally made it. “It’s important to have patience,” he says.

                      10. Tan Min Liang: Passion Can Pay Off

                        Tan Min Liang is the founder of the leading high-performance gaming hardware, Razer. Always on the look out for new opportunities to connect and scale his business, Tan has been bold in making many of his life’s decisions.

                        Having deviated from a traditional path set by a family that consists of doctors and lawyers, Tan was to find his life’s work and passion while gaming with his older brother.

                        The idea was simple: there were so many games out there to play, however, there were hardly any gaming equipment to match this.

                        So he dropped out of law and began going a different direction, into creating solutions in the gaming industry. At the start of 2019, Tan wrote to tech luminary Elon Musk to which Musk’s reply suggested of a joint venture between two of the most successful entrepreneurs today.

                        Final Thoughts

                        In today’s cutthroat world, the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur is a long and arduous process trailed with ups and downs. A valuable lesson that a good hand of entrepreneurs would love to convey to aspiring entrepreneurs is to keep the spirit of innovation and to explore uncharted waters.

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                        Learning from experience and failure is one direction to a desired end goal. Exhibiting the same dedication and grit so many entrepreneurs have through their unexpected careers – today’s budding visionaries ought to hang on their dreams and leave room for improvement along the way.

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                        Featured photo credit: Patrick Tomasso via unsplash.com

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