A 2012 Harvard Business School study found that three out of four venture-backed startups fail.
And not even the luckiest and most talented founders – the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world – make it through the process unscathed.
All entrepreneurs will make poor management decisions or wrong hires and face obstacles entirely out of their control. The best are able to process each failure, learn from it, and continue forward with a modified vision.
Some experienced entrepreneurs discussed what they’ve learned out in the field in the Quora thread: “If you could go back in time and teach yourself one thing about starting a business that would’ve made yourself 10X more successful today what would that be?“
We picked out the highlights:
Convincing people you’re successful doesn’t make you successful.
In the early stages of a company, founders are not obliged to share any financial information with the public, giving them a great opportunity to build the “myth” behind the brand to excite consumers. It’s necessary to provide your company with a story your customers can connect with, as long as you don’t find yourself chasing good press rather than sales, says Josh Bob, a product manager at Trip Advisor and two-time founder-CEO.
“Just because you’re interviewed for articles, flown out to speak at conferences, or given props as a successful entrepreneur – that does not make you a successful entrepreneur,” he says.
Fast growth is of prime importance.
“Growth – at a near-exponential rate – is how you build a great company, at least in the early stages,” Bob writes. “I would tell my younger self to focus less on building features and on the parts of the business that I enjoyed, and more on just building the base of paying clients.”
You must become self-sufficient.
Bob says that seven years after founding his first business he realizes that nothing is free, not even advice. That’s to say, it’s necessary to understand the motivation behind advice offered to you, whether it’s because someone wants to sign on as an adviser or investor. Both are important for growing a business, but Bob says that he would tell his younger self to trust his instinct and capabilities more.
It’s related to advice that Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank gave at the CNBC and Inc. Magazine iCONIC conference in November, about equating success with raising money at a high valuation and not recognizing the risks of giving up control. “I think that the cheapest capital in the world is probably sitting in your inventory racks or the product you are trying to sell because, No. 1, it doesn’t require a board seat and doesn’t have an opinion to weigh in on what you are trying to do with your business,” Plank said.
Your success depends on who you hire.
When you’re a first-time entrepreneur, it can be easy to start a habit of taking chances on people, but it is necessary to establish strict hiring standards and never compromise, Bob writes – the same philosophy Google’s HR head Laszlo Bock takes at the tech giant.
The top criteria is trustworthiness, Bob says. You’ll likely be spending more time with your team than you will with your loved ones, and you need to believe that they are putting in just as much effort as you are.
If you choose a business partner, treat it like a marriage.
- Getty / Chip Somodevilla
PayPal cofounder and influential investor Peter Thiel says in his book “Zero to One” that a business partner should be seen as a kind of spouse; it’s a lesson three-time entrepreneur Gregory Logan says he wished he knew sooner.
The decision to go into business with someone should never be as simple as, “This person is qualified to help me.” Business partners should have complementary skill sets, but they also need to have chemistry.
As in marriage, there will inevitably be times when you will clash with your business partner, and tempers may flare. “Good partners will go on and keep working despite the fights, and bad partners will slow down the startup, which could drive it to death,” Logan writes.
Know that you can’t control everything.
As a founder, it’s your role to create and nurture the spirit of your company, and in its early days you may be responsible for every aspect of its existence. But as it grows, you need to learn to ease back, says The New Savvy founder Anna Tan.
Tan says it’s easy to get caught up in minutae, but that micromanagement holds everyone back. Think of yourself as “chief visionary officer,” Tan writes.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
“Many entrepreneurs start off with a grand vision in mind – their product or service will change their industry, they’re ready for it, plans were drawn, things were done and we’re ready to take on the world,” Tan says. “There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious … But so many entrepreneurs get obsessed with doing so many things at once that they soon reach a point where they’re effectively achieving nothing.”
Find a niche to serve, Tan says, and grow from there.
All successful entrepreneurs are marketers.
Startup founders must constantly be thinking of customer acquisition, Tan writes.
“Marketing is and should always be No. 1 on the entrepreneur’s priorities – it doesn’t matter if you have a great platform or the best products if no one knows about it,” she says. “At the end of the day all businesses come down to money, which won’t come in without sales, so it strikes me as incredibly strange that most people don’t even think about this till the very end.”
“Do what you’d do if you didn’t need the money.”
Entrepreneur and author Ed Tyson says that all entrepreneurs are driven by the desires to build something and not work for someone else. In his first venture, he hit a wall, he says. He was financially successful but business stopped being fun. He stepped back and realized that his career satisfaction was not tied solely to money. He decided to become a founding member of the 3D printing filament company rigid.ink because its potential excited him.
“When you’re working towards a goal you really want, as opposed to a goal set through the fear of average, things click for you and all the people that will help you achieve it,” Tyson writes, adding that he likes speaker and author Simon Sinek’s advice to “focus on the ‘why.’“
That way, everything “becomes aligned with your single true goal instead of the many distractions you previously used to avoid thinking about the thing you know you really must do.”