These days finding and maintaining a decent job is tough. Becoming rich (in the traditional sense of having a lot of money) from most jobs is a monumental task that most people never achieve. Having passion and creating happiness through a job where you are working for someone else can be close to impossible for most people.
I’m writing this post because I’ve learned a lot along the way of becoming an Inc. 500 Entrepreneur, founding several tech companies, selling businesses, forming my own incubator and doing very well in the entrepreneurial and business world. But nothing I have learned is more important than what I’m about to share with you in this post.
Understanding Entrepreneurship and the WHY
Goals – The true reason you do what you do
You should sit down and ask yourself why you want to be an entrepreneur. Just having more money can be a long, dark, potentially miserable goal. Nothing really changes with money, except you can buy shinier things. You aren’t going to be happy with money alone. It may distract you for a while, but it doesn’t build real, true happiness.
I build products and create companies (like this one) that I think will have an impact on the world, and more importantly will help people to improve their lives. I haven’t always had this mindset, but by adopting it, my true goals have become clearer.
I don’t do it for the money, but for the passion. If the money comes (which it usually does when you are in it for the right reasons) that’s great and a huge added benefit.
Greed vs. Abundance
There’s nothing wrong with wanting more money. The problem is when that’s your sole goal in life, to have a lot of money. I don’t think it does anything long term, other than dig you further down a dark and deep rabbit hole of ego.
There is nothing wrong with asking for abundance and desiring more wealth, but it shouldn’t be your only goal. Creating a successful startup that helps people and happens to create wealth for you is perfectly fine. That’s because you aren’t doing it solely for the money.
Financial security is something people often ask me about. Financial security simply means you can support yourself and your family independently without relying on a traditional job (or anything) that could fire you at a moment’s notice.
People come to me and say they have no passion whatsoever for business or entrepreneurship, but they want to create financial security for their family. They then ask me if they should bother getting into this if they aren’t passionate about it. Here’s my answer:
This is the first spark of hope that what you really want to do is have a different life. You want to do things differently. You are going down the entrepreneurial path, whether you realize it or not. Most people that say this to me become very happy entrepreneurs. Not everyone is successful in the traditional sense, but they at least get closer to true financial security they didn’t have with their 9-5. This becomes something that they are happy and passionate about because it is creating the lifestyle they wanted. In other words, the ugly puppy may look unappealing at first, but before you know it you start to fall in love with that ugly face. It becomes cute and adorable to you.
Getting Started as an Entrepreneur
Coming up with business ideas
There’s one technique that will allow anyone, even without a single idea, to come up with business ideas by doing some specific research. It’s a little bit of an Easter egg hunt, but you can find diamonds in the rough using this technique.
I call this technique ‘Secret Worlds.’ Essentially, you look for reviews of existing products. This works especially well with technology. Take something like the Buffer app, for example. It’s a social media posting tool. You can Google it and find community forums and things like that where people give their honest feedback: what they like—and most importantly—what they don’t like. The idea is to find people saying these phrases: “If only”, “I hate”, “I wish”, etc. These phrases unlock potential for a better product than what is out there now. And often, for whatever reason, the owners of the existing product can’t or won’t implement the changes that people wish they had. This becomes the perfect opportunity for you to make a new tool—with a proven and existing market—of people that want this tool.
You can read more about this technique here.
Finding a Mentor
Often times I feel this is the MOST important step. When you’re just starting out, it’s one sure way to accelerate your growth many times over. The trick though is to make sure you find a stellar mentor that is in it for the right reasons. You must determine that they are highly qualified to mentor you, and that they don’t have any ulterior motive in mentoring you.
I advocate paying for mentorship because I don’t feel that anyone will truly mentor you for free without some kind of ulterior motivate. The ulterior motive may be to use you as a case study, but it could always be something else.
With that in mind, finding a mentor and knowing what red flags to look for – it makes things a lot easier. Always ask yourself, ‘Why is this person mentoring me, and what do they want out of it?’ Maybe it’s a mutual exchange that works for both parties. Or, maybe it’s cash. Maybe it’s equity in your company.
It’s OK to have more than one mentor, but be careful. Having multiple mentors isn’t always as good as it seems. Teaching methods can contradict each other. Let me give you an example. I have a coach (or mentor) for my Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. I wouldn’t think to get a second coach for the same martial art unless that second coach had something extremely unique to offer that didn’t interfere with what I was already being taught. And because I’m not yet a black belt, I don’t know what I don’t know yet. Therefore, it’s hard to judge and figure out what that one unique thing would be that I could learn from someone else without interfering with what I’m already working on.
The same goes for being an entrepreneur. I often mentor students, and they tell me they heard something else from another teacher. I then have to spend additional time with them explaining why what they were told is bad advice. Just because someone else might be successful in their own right, does NOT make them a good teacher or mentor.
Start your business – Don’t wait for anyone
It’s time to start your business, without getting in your own way. Often, people wait for a friend or potential business partner to come along. That person may come along, but they may not.
The only guaranteed way to fail is to never start.
Now is the time to start your LLC, buy your domain names, find coders, and do whatever it takes to make it happen. I suggest a book called Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. It’s a great book on pitching and negotiating, something you will have to do many times as a business owner.
Learning From My Mistakes
Don’t be afraid to WORK
Many people think that becoming a business owner is about outsourcing and not working. The opposite is almost always the case when you first start. YOU have to get to work. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and dive in. Even if you aren’t an absolute expert in all the fields involved in your business, it may be time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. You can outsource and replace yourself in time, but for now don’t be “too good” to get to work.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
This may seem a contradiction, but there’s definitely a time to ask for help, and a right and wrong way to do it. There’s also a difference between asking for help and being a complete drain on someone. If you have a friend/colleague that is an expert in what you are doing, ask for help. But make sure you are giving as much as you are receiving. It’s a trade. Often, entrepreneurs get in this mindset that says they have to do EVERYTHING themselves and ask for help from no-one, so that the success is “theirs” and theirs only. Let me tell you that if you have resources around you that can do a favor just to help you, take it. Just make sure to follow the guidelines in the above section of “Finding a Mentor” to determine what their real motivation is.
Don’t wait for funding – bootstrap
The best pitch for funding, agreed to by virtually every investor on the planet always starts with, “I have all these orders that I can’t fulfill without more money” or, “My tech product is in extremely high demand but I need money for it to grow.” You can get a very high valuation because you have sales or demand for your product/service. When you just have an idea, and you are one of a thousand people pitching “the next billion dollar social media network” the investor is just going to roll their eyes and next you.
Instead, start with what you have. Sure, it might be slower, but it’s better than nothing. I would rather a slow start to my billion-dollar idea than no start. Then, you build value and a prototype, and create interest in your products. Before you know it, you’ll have to be the one turning the investors away rather than the other way around.
Don’t de-value yourself
I get messages from entrepreneurs every day on various social media networks, email, etc. and they constantly de-value themselves. They “pitch” me an idea and (sometimes literally) beg for funding. This is a turn off and tells me that nobody else is interested. This behavior makes me question the potential investment and the entrepreneur. Send your pitch, but don’t beg, and don’t act desperate. It never works. If you can’t raise any money, just bootstrap and own more of your company! You will thank me later when you own 60% of a billion-dollar company instead of 10%.