In 2012, the team that launched Instagram sold to Facebook for over $1B. It took them only a few short years to achieve this incredible success. Others, like me, are barely able to get their company off the ground in that amount of time.
Business is not fair. It can be downright fickle and hard. But don’t let that hold you back.
Sometimes the difference between success and failure can be a matter of getting the right model right. It can also be getting the right team right. Or launching the right business in the right industry. Or using the right technology with the right approach in just the right decade. Point is,…so much can go wrong and too little can go right. But if you believe in yourself, and can accept the risk – then take it might make sense to take the chance.
Use the Best/Worst Analysis (B/WA) formula and ask yourself these four questions:
- What is the best thing that can happen if I do it?
- What is the worst thing that can happen if I do it?
- What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t do it?
- What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do it?
We tend to make choices more difficult than they need to be.
Hope is a beautiful thing
Success looks easy. Every day, we read about some entrepreneur who created a billion dollar widget or app. We look at it and think, “we can do that”. The “news” makes it look big, easy and the quick. And then we feel bad because our outcomes are smaller, harder – and take much longer. Because of this, it’s important for us to hold two separate but equal truths:
- that we are unique and special made and can succeed wildly given the right circumstances.
- life might not give us what we want when we want.
Don’t forget that you are special and there is more to you than business. Don’t let the gap between others’ success and your own reality make you lose your ability to hope.
What are you building?
Know the difference between building a business and being a technician working in your field of expertise. It’s fine if you want to be a consultant or freelancer and be a sole proprietor, but know the difference between working in the business and scaling the business. Try to figure this out early – or in the beginning. It’s easy to start a business, and all to too often we start by working in our area of expertise.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but the moment you take on work that you need to complete yourself, you’ve moved from being an owner to becoming an employee. (e-Myth) You are either a freelancer or a business owner and its not easy to move from one to the other. Have a growth plan (at least in your head) in place to work from.
Ideate and do research, then execute
It’s silly to create a business plan that forecasts owning 1% of a market. VC’s hate it. And it’s never that easy or as simple. Instead, work backwards and ask yourself what you are providing the market that is unique. Get real facts based on personal information, know what you can deliver and when, and know how long it will take you to scale with the resources you have available. Back into the math.
Do at least some research before getting into an industry, or instead of spending two or three times the money you will spend much more time and money – with failure and a large amount of pain as a very realistic possible outcome.
It’s important to dream, but that has to be only the beginning. Once you have the idea, take the time to formulate the road map to success. Doing this will make you consider your priorities, and how and where you allocate valuable resources. Understanding your priorities can help you focus in and execute correctly.
Put your risks into perspective
Some people see entrepreneurs as 100% risk-takers. But, that’s not the right way to see entrepreneurs. Most of the time, when an entrepreneur decides to move forward, risk has become an acceptable exchange for some level of opportunity.
Don’t let risk hold you back or you won’t get out of bed.
Don’t get into business to find your “self”
Money is not as important as having love and connection, good friends, and a strong family around you. Sure, it helps, but if you don’t have something larger than yourself out there, you will be be lacking. If you are starting the business to solve some root issue in your life or make yourself less broken as a person, don’t start the business. Starting a business won’t complete you. It will magnify your root issue ways you cannot imagine.
Partnerships are like marriage
Having partners can be very much like living in a good or bad marriage – so consider them carefully. Don’t strive for perfection though. It’s impossible and you it will waste your time. Just make sure you get the right things right.
Smart people hire up
If your ego is in the way, push it aside and hire up as often as you can. Don’t waste time wondering if you are smart or smart enough – lots of people with average intelligence have succeeded in business. It’s more important to be sensible and fair and have good character and courage. That said, being smart helps. Generally speaking, a smart person will look for the best talent, and a person standing in their own way will often hire down.
Understand your total investments
What are you willing to invest to make a business work. A year of your life? Two. Your sanity? Over $150,000 of your life savings? Your entire family? Know up front what it will take to make you put aside the busines. Come to terms with this upfront, or you may spend years digging a very large hole you can’t see a way out of.
Love yourself always
Be kind to yourself. Get whatever sleep you need. Exercise. And know when you should retool or pivot and move forward again in some different way. Know the difference between quitting and thoughtfully changing direction. Sometimes it’s important to exit gracefully and put the negative behind you. You will heal faster and other good opportunities will come your way.
Too often, we spend our treasure (time, energy, money) trying to be successful (sometimes in the eyes of others), and then later, we wonder if we “lived well”. Figure out early how to integrate fulfillment and purpose into your life, and you will be better for it.
Figure out how to connect those threads into the business if you can. Building a business to increase your level of happiness can be fleeting. Happiness can be like trying to exist on a cotton candy diet. It looks good, tastes good, but over the long haul, it simply won’t fill you up.
Society makes us feel that happy people are out vacationing and golfing and that work is for people that can’t get away from it. Don’t believe the lie. Studies have shown that the right kind of work is central to a healthy, happy life.
After years of interviewing people in every stage of their career, I have found that the happiest people are those that spend themselves in a worthy cause and believe, at some level, that they are making some progress and doing something meaningful in their lives.
Forgive yourself when you fail
If nothing else, remember that you are only human. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. You will make mistakes. You will fall down. You will doubt your abilities. You will learn things about yourself that you don’t like. But if you are going to start your own business, you will have to stretch. You will be out of your comfort zone at times and you will feel out of control. Count on it, but remember that this is good. It means you are growing.
If you don’t get the new business right, see the failure as something you had the courage to try. It’s easier said than done, but don’t take it too personally. Give yourself a break. Make sure “business” is not how you define yourself and you will be fine. Get back up and continue on with life.
CHRISTOPHER MENGEL brings over 20 years of insights to business owners and talent leaders inside emerging technology and professional services firms to implement new initiatives, develop new strategies for growth, carry out organizational and cultural change, manage complex projects, and fill business-critical roles. Have a challenge you want to solve? Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter and subscribe to his posts or contact him.
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