If you were to take heed to the startup narrative depicted in the media and popular culture, you would think entrepreneurship is all fun and games. The entrepreneur’s journey has repeatedly been romanticized, glorified, and used as a vessel to tell the universal “feel good stories” of humanity – the “rags to riches” story, the “underdog that succeeds against all odds” story, and the like.
The truth is, most of these “feel good” stories about entrepreneurship are complete BS.
Startups are hard, and being an entrepreneur will often crush your soul. The real story of entrepreneurship is one of constant rejection, frayed relationships, inevitable betrayal, roller coasters of emotions, and a rocky process whereby “work” and “life” become one.
I have started nine companies now, and while most have been successful, some have not. Through the ups and downs and everything I have learned (and continue to learn), I can assure you the following statement is true:
As an entrepreneur, you will be screwed and you will be humbled. Over and over again.
When you’re first launching a company, you will be humbled almost hourly. It will take you 100 “no’s” to get a single “yes”, and seemingly nobody will want to talk to you. If you are able to push through it and build a successful company, you still get humbled, but just a little less often. No matter how successful you become, you will never stop being humbled as an entrepreneur because you will never stop learning. They are one in the same.
The moment you think you know everything as an entrepreneur, you have failed.
But then here’s the kicker. You will also get screwed. Unfortunately, for every entrepreneur that works hard and does things the right way, there are five more that do not. The slightest modicum of success will attract the liars and leeches. Your stuff will get copied and stolen, your name may be defamed, and people will chip away at your years of hard work like a nagging woodpecker that never rests.
I would go as far as to say that any entrepreneur that doesn’t have multiple people trying to copy or screw them probably hasn’t accomplished all that much.
That’s the glum reality of entrepreneurship, but it’s not all bad. Personally I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and there are legions of others out there that feel the same way. But its certainly not for everyone, and in my opinion most people get into entrepreneurship without understanding the herculean effort, dedication, and determination involved.
If you are just crazy enough to try and build something of your own, something that changes even just a little bit of the world out there, here are the two best pieces of advice I can give you to survive the journey:
1. Have a clear vision, and stick to it
I find a lot of confusion when it comes to the concept of “Company Vision”, because if you were to do a Google search there are many convoluted definitions out there. This is mostly due to the fact that in big companies, “vision” is more commonly a term used in HR, PR, and other forms corporate communication.
However, forming a clear vision for your startup is perhaps the most important early thing an entrepreneur can do. There are many definitions out there, but here is the simplest one I can give you:
A startup’s vision is their interpretation of what the world will look like in the future, and how their venture will be part of this future.
Your vision serves as the company’s “North Star”, and should guide each and every decision you make as a company. I repeat: your vision should guide each and every decision you make as a company. This is where most entrepreneurs go awry.
Your strategy to carry out your vision (your “mission”) may change, but your vision cannot. Is it possible that your vision is incorrect? Of course. In fact, it’s more than likely, because we can’t see the future. But that’s not the point.
Once you have established your vision, you have created your bullseye, and now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to execute and fire arrows to hit it. If you keep changing the location of the bullseye, your job of hitting it becomes much, much harder.
You will make a lot of important decisions every day as an entrepreneur, so your company’s vision needs to be your saving grace. Put it on your wall, maybe even on your desktop wallpaper. Startups are a roller coaster, and there will be “shiny” opportunities, deceptive people, soul-crushing challenges, and a ton of other things that will serve to distract and pull you away from your vision, but you have to stick to it at all costs.
The more you adhere to your vision, the simpler the decisions you make become, the easier you will sleep at night, and ultimately the higher your chances of success will become.
2. Be Ridiculously Resilient
I know what you’re thinking: “Gee thanks Adeo. Be Resilient. Easier said than done.”
Fair enough, but building an impactful company is also easier said than done. The best founders are ridiculously resilient. It really is that simple.
If you’re going to do something meaningful, it’s going to be really, really hard, and there are going to be many dark, dark times before (and if) you are successful. The night is always darkest right before the dawn.
“Determination is the key ingredient for every entrepreneur.” – Jason Calacanis
The path to success is never a straight line. If it was, everyone would start a company, and we would be living in a world with a lot less innovation. Innovation is by its very nature challenging, with multiple brick walls that need to be plowed through. These hardships breed success, and the more you begin to looks at these “brick walls” as speed bumps, the better off you will be. They are simply part of the process.
It may seem like an oversimplification, but despite the myriad of reasons you will hear there is really only one reason a company fails.
The one and only reason a company fails is when the founder gives up.
If you create a strong vision, stick to it, and be ridiculously resilient, then maybe, just maybe, you will be successful.
It will be hard, but if it were easy everyone would do it, right?