The following answers are provided by members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
What lesson would you teach your younger self about entrepreneurship, given what you know now?
1. Embrace Change
When I started out, I thought success meant everything working out the way you planned. But that’s not really how entrepreneurship works. Some things work out far better than you imagined, some things don’t happen and other things seem like epic failures, but it’s really all just a learning process. Rolling with the punches, embracing change and enjoying the adventure is a big part of the fun.
– Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®
2. Understand There’s More Than One Way
I entered the world of entrepreneurship timidly, even feeling uncomfortable to call myself a “real” entrepreneur for years. What I didn’t understand when I started out was that entrepreneurship is less about your number of investors, your job title or how many companies you’ve sold. What entrepreneurship is about is freedom and using your power of choice to do business and serve others in ways that empower you, liberate you and do good in the world. There’s not just one way to go about it; the journey is what you make of it.
– Dave Ursillo, The Literati Writers
As an entrepreneur, many new ideas and shiny new ventures will catch your eye on a day-to-day basis, but more often than not, focusing on one mission at a time will mean the difference between success and failure. As the saying goes, if you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Sometimes, focus and a relentless attitude can even trump the greatness of the idea itself.
– Richard Lorenzen, Fifth Avenue Brands
4. Surround Yourself with the Right People
There are many important principles of good business: best practices, success strategies, etc. But none of them are universal. You can march to your own beat. You can do things your own way…and you can make it work. But the people you choose to surround yourself with will make or break you. When I have ambitious, hard-working, like-minded people around me – motivating peers and mentors I can learn from, collaborate with, test/validate ideas with and get pushed by – I make fast progress and thrive. When I don’t have those people around me, I stagnate. You need a strong support network.
– Cody McKibben, ThrillingHeroics.com
5. Don’t Get Stuck on the Hamster Wheel
A huge lesson I learned well after starting a business was that there’s a difference between owning a company and running one. Both are great, but the latter means that you can never stop running, or the company will slow down. Over time, it’s key to learn how to build a trustworthy team and to train others in your knowledge. At first, my goal was just to have a business that worked, but now my goal is to one day have a business that could survive even if I stopped running. I want to be able to catch my breath and enjoy it!
– Lexa Hillyer, Paper Lantern Lit
6. Master the Tension Between Focus & Flexibility
Entrepreneurs are generally good with either being focused or being flexible, but the trick is mastering the tension between the two. It is important to be focused — on your goals, on your business plan, and on your customers. However, you also have to stay flexible to the needs of the market.
– Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects
7. Accept That Mistakes Are Okay
Accept that 80 percent is an A+. Being a perfectionist and an entrepreneur can often yield several problems, including micromanaging, which drives you — and those around you — crazy. Accept that mistakes will happen, and that they are, in fact, part of building a great business and team.
– Ilya Pozin, Ciplex
8. Collaborate With Others, Compete With Yourself
Entrepreneurship isn’t a zero-sum game. You and your competitors can all be winners and, for the most part, competing with anyone other than yourself (unless you’re a professional athlete, of course!) is counterproductive. Share ideas, help each other out and rise together. And keep your competitive edge turned inward. Not only will your sanity benefit, but so will your business.
– Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean
A friend of mine, Shervin Pishevar, made a statement that has stuck with me and served as a reminder for quite some time.
He said, “The answer is always no unless you ask.”
A simple, yet powerful, truth. Unless you ask the questions, there’s no way of knowing what the outcome will be. And without asking the question, the answer is always no.
This is something I continually try to remind myself of when stuck in a spot of uncertanity and fear.
Ask the questions that need to be asked.
– Jeff Slobotski, Silicon Prairie News
Decision and action are always better than indecision. This is particularly important for early business success. Execution moves things forward, and you don’t have time to ponder small decisions. Sometimes, even a lot of analysis will not give you the answer, and you have to go with what you believe will work best.
– Jesse Pujji, Ampush
For first-time entrepreneurs, managing yourself can be a real challenge. We don’t realize how much we sometimes need structure. Being accountable to someone (a boss) is a huge motivating factor. I’d develop better habits around managing my time in a sustainable way. With my first company, I’d work 24 hours straight (literally). Some days, I’d just take off completely. Balance is everything, and it’s the key to sustainably being an entrepreneur for the long run.
– Mitch Gordon, Go Overseas
We entrepreneurs have ideas every day. The sooner you test these ideas against reality to see if they’re viable, the quicker you’ll get to the idea that works.
For example, I once had an idea to build an iPhone app. I made the wireframes. I got with a developer. I paid the developer about 20 percent of my savings account. And I lost all my money because I had an app no one wanted.
If I had tested the app idea with my potential customers without any investment, I would have quickly found out my idea wasn’t needed. Get out of the building and test before you invest.
Research shows pretty conclusively that the best leaders do one primary thing differently: They know their strengths and work in them almost all the time. This sounds simple, but what I didn’t realize was that our society isn’t set up like this. From our earliest school days, we are taught to focus on making our deficiencies better; this never leads to greatness. Instead, first discover those things that make you unique: your gifts/talents/strengths. Second, find a big, hairy problem in the world that makes you righteously indignant. Third, use your strengths to solve that problem!
– Josh Allan Dykstra, Strengths Doctors
As a younger entrepreneur, I always wanted to build or start something that I wanted. Part of what makes entrepreneurs great is that they are often so passionate about a solution to a problem because they have that problem. But the reality is this: a problem doesn’t constitute a company. So talk to your customers… a lot. After realizing how much we learn from customers, we now have built that feedback loop so tightly into the company — from weekly in-office usability testing to all-hands customer support to monthly feedback from our employees.
– Eric Koester, Zaarly
15. Generate Sustainable Revenue
Focus on generating sustainable revenue. Entrepreneurs thrive on ideas and opportunity. Some ideas take longer to materialize into a profitable business, and in some cases, opportunity takes longer to materialize. Regardless of the idea or the opportunity, I would focus on smaller increments that can start delivering revenue sooner than later. This is a critical success factor for technology startups given that I can easily manage to become a thinker than a revenue generator. This also helps in seeing what works and expanding on that versus going with the big bang theory.
– Raheel Retiwalla, Fuzed
Business plan? No problem. Road trip to raise capital? Got it. Two hours of sleep? Push through it. These are all things we did early on without blinking. We loved our small team and our mission, and we fell in love with our business. Then, our business got older and, although it aged well, it lost some of the excitement. Our passion became a job first, instead of the other way around.
It took time, but we got out of the rut by changing things up: new roles, scenery, experiences, projects and team activities. It’s not about building new fires, but feeding the one you started.