As a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m always surprised by the fact that some never seem to be able to that first startup going, while many others never seem to stop, starting their second or third initiative before the first one is fully hatched. I’m now convinced that serious entrepreneurs relish the startup process more than success. They enjoy the journey more than the destination.
If you think about it, most of the influential names in the entrepreneur world today, including Elon Musk and Richard Branson, have each started many companies, learning from each, and fully recognizing that not all are destined to be remembered. Others, like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, have one company, but are known for their frequent internal “startup” initiatives to foster growth.
The lesson here is that the right actions, follow-through, and commitments involved in starting a new venture are likely more important to ultimate success than honing the single ultimate idea, or getting the solution exactly right the first time. Here is my summary of key principles that you can follow to join that select realm of recognized and successful entrepreneurs:
- Thinking and talking won’t get you there – just do it. Starting something new is risky, no matter how many experts have reviewed it, or how much money you have. You can’t win a race that you never start. The key here is to gather the relevant facts, risks, and resources, make a decision, and move forward. Real entrepreneurs start experiments. A while back, one of my aspiring entrepreneur friends was trying to impress me with his expertise, by bragging that he had the idea for a couple of innovations before anyone else, but he just never got around to filing a patent before someone stole it from him. As an angel investor, you can bet I wasn’t convinced he would ever start his next proposal.
- Plan to learn from what doesn’t work, but never give up. Based on my experience, most startup failures occur simply because the founder gives up too soon, without exploring creative alternatives. More determined entrepreneurs take every step that fails as a new insight to success, pivots to a better alternative, and moves on toward success. Most people don’t remember that Bill Gates first software venture, called Traf-O-Data, was a dismal failure. As well, Jeff Bezos admits to having make an embarrassing number of bad investments, which he calls painful learning experiences, but he never gave up.
- Rally people behind a higher purpose, not just a product. The customer culture today responds best to a greater vision for improving society and the planet, which can easily sustain a constant stream of new products. Challenge your team, and your customers, with expanding their mindset, achieving personal goals, and changing the world. For example, renowned TOMS shoe company founder Blake Mycoskie continually made it clear that his most important goal was making life better for the less fortunate. Thus he donates a pair for every pair sold, and keeps his employees engaged by sending them internationally to work directly with constituents who can most benefit from the donations.
- Incent and reward new ideas with action, not more study. Counter the traditional business thinking that the key to long-term growth is repeatable processes and volume manufacturing. Today the key is building momentum, customization, and continuous innovation. Don’t let your team forget that you can’t have innovation without new actions. The best way to start is to enable employee decision making on customer satisfaction issues. For example, the hotel chain Ritz-Carlton, incents employees to try new ideas by allowing them to spend up to $2,000 per guest to overcome a particular problem.
- Spend more time nurturing partners and outside influencers. Too many early entrepreneurs go into stealth mode, or are unwilling to share what they know, for fear of ideas being stolen. The best are willing to share what they know, actively build partner communities, and constantly expand their realm through new learning and experiments. Elon Musk, while clearly in the lead with electric autos, recently announced that he is freely offering his battery intellectual property to partners and competitors, in order to expedite the development of the charging support network needed to expand the market.
Obviously, you need the confidence in yourself to make that first step. Here again, giving yourself a purpose and committing to that purpose is a good way to drive you to action. Practice by working to convince others to support you, and then follow you into action. Remember that everyone stumbles as they learn, so don’t be afraid to pick yourself up and try again.
It’s also important to surround yourself with smart people who can hone your vision, complement your execution skills, and drive you to action. Before you know it, you too will become the real entrepreneur and influencer that you always wanted to be. There is still plenty of opportunity out there for all of us.