On January 1, 2004 I officially made the leap from Cubicle Land (that’s not actually my old desk in the picture) in corporate America and started my own company. These last six years have been pretty typical of someone who sets out on their own – full of highs and lows, challenges and rewards. Every day is unique. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Like a lot of us, I tend to use this time of year to reflect and look forward to the challenges that are awaiting me in the New Year.
Looking back, I figure I’ve worked an average of 50 hours per week for all 312 weeks over those six years. It’s probably more, but let’s go with 50. That means I’ve invested more than 15,000 hours into being an entrepreneur (I’ve also spent time working on side projects and additional ventures).
According to Malcom Gladwell, I should be an expert in entrepreneurship by now. I’m definitely not. Far from it. But I have learned countless important lessons that influence the decisions I make on a day-to-day basis. In fact the learning that takes place every day is one of my favorite parts of being an entrepreneur and is why I get out of bed each morning.
In thinking about all of the lessons learned, here are my top six from the last six years:
Entrepreneurs are not normal people.
When I first started Brand5, I naively thought that anyone could run their own business. The truth is that anyone can start their own business. But only the rare bird known as the entrepreneur can ride the never ending roller coaster that goes with putting up your own shingle. Entrepreneurs are hard-wired differently than everyone else. Anytime I meet a fellow entrepreneur, I have instant respect for them and the unique pressures they face every single day. It’s a rough game and not everyone is cut out for it.
Resist the urge to be perfect.
I have experienced this myself and seen it play out over and over again with clients and other startups. When launching a new business that is primarily or completely online, there is a strong temptation to wait until everything is absolutely perfect before launching it to the public. That’s completely wrong. Realize that your website will never be perfect. Someone, either you or your partners, will find something they want to change. The more time spent trying to make it perfect without launching, the more money you waste. Pick a sensible launch point and spend extra time trying to get customers.
Leave your ego at the door.
A lot of entrepreneurs figure out pretty quickly that there are not enough hours in the day. It’s impossible to do everything. In order to grow, tasks need to be delegated. When I first opened up shop, I tried to learn a little bit about everything – taxes, legal, and bookkeeping to name a few. That was wrong because, first, I’m not ever going to be good at those things. And second, learning that stuff took away from my time growing the business. Don’t be hard-headed and try to micro manage everything. Focus on what you do best.
Google rules the world.
If you have ever run an online business or even a website, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You cannot successfully market anything on the web without heavily involving Google. Whether its marketing through organic search, paid search, content ads, maps, calendars, or the local business center…a mastery of Google is required. Make sure that any venture you take part in includes someone who knows how to leverage all of the incredible power of Google. If you don’t have someone in-house, hire those skills immediately!
Bootstrapping is not overrated.
One thing I never envisioned when I first got started was the opportunity to serve on a board of another company or get involved as an equity partner. I’ve been extremely lucky to do both in the last six years. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to hold on to equity like a vice grip. It sounds like a no-brainer, but not everyone does it. People rush to get tons of funding and before no time they own a tiny share of the company. What fun is it to work a million hours for something you barely own? The barrier to entry to start new web-based businesses is zero these days. Fund it yourself. And if you don’t have the money, wait until you do. Or find a partner that will fund if for you without taking a huge part in the company.
A good lawyer is priceless.
Don’t laugh at this one. Seriously, find legal counsel that you can call or email anytime you need help. Thankfully my business has grown over the past six years. As it grows, things get more complicated – contracts, NDAs, copyrights, trademarks, operating agreements, and all kinds of other fun stuff. Like I said before, I don’t have the time to dissect every line of every contract. While I admit that writing those checks for a high hourly rate are painful, it’s worth it every penny because I know that, in the end, my interests are protected.
What lessons have you learned from your time as an entrepreneur? Let’s talk about them in the comment area below.