Top 10 Entrepreneurship Insights

I'm one of those crazy people who prefers trying to start a business from scratch instead of a steady paycheck at a reasonable job with nice people. As such, I've started a bunch of different enterprises with varying levels of success. But I've learned a ton along the way. Here's the best of it.

1. A business must be good at everything. (You aren't good at everything.)

This is by far the most important insight. To succeed, a business must be good in all facets - marketing, sales, product quality, culture, finance, customer support, planning. All of it. If any one of those things is missing, the business will fail because of it. You aren't good at all of those things. You're going to need help.

2. Don't be first.

So you have a great idea - a big one - and it's going to change everything. Awesome. Now wait. Being first to market means lots of costs spent trying to educate the market that they a) have a problem, and b) you have a solution. Be second. Let someone do a) for you, and learn from what they do.

3. Marketing > Product

This is my personal achilles' heel. I'm a maker, someone who has an idea and then jumps in to bringing it to life. But a product without a plan for putting it into people's hands is worthless. Actually, worse than that, it's actively bad. Making that product is stealing resources from getting things you already have into people's hands. People sell crap products all the time. It's tragic. But what's more tragic are the great products that should be in their place, that people never hear of.

4. Don't lie to yourself.

This goes back to #1. You have flaws - as a person, as a company, in the things you're making. Find those flaws, face them head-on, and learn from them. It's the only way to get better. Pretending they don't exist will kill you.

5. Lie to yourself.

If any of us who start a business knew what it would actually take to pull it off, we'd never agree to do it. Belief that it's possible, and that you have the resources to pull it off is a critical component of success. This one, paradoxically, goes hand-in-hand with #4. Successfully navigating entrepreneurship requires balancing your level of denial, and the lies you do and don't tell yourself. Finding that balance is one of the most difficult things to figure out. Believe, but don't fool yourself.

6. It will take twice as long, and you'll need twice as much money as you think.

I promise. Just pencil it in, don't look at it too often, and thank me later.

7. Understand the emotion of why.

Why are people interested in what you're doing? It is solving a pain point? A worry? A stress? Boredom? People buy based on how they feel, not that they think. Understand what's motivating people, what they need, and meet them there.

8. Pick the idea you would clean toilets for.

The best part of starting a business is when you have an idea, nothing built yet, and everything is possible. Enjoy those moments. But don't act on all of them. Go after the idea that you want so much, you'd be willing to do hours of horrible drudgery that you hate to make it real. Because that's what it's going to take.

And if you don't have that kind of passion for an idea, that's great! Don't pursue it, and enjoy the zero-calorie satisfaction of what it could have been.

8a. Say no.

Steve Jobs was probably the best at this in the past century. Building a business involves making tradeoffs over finite resources. Starting a business from scratch means that there are even fewer resources available. The more you can say no, the better your "yes"es become. Say "no" to making things as often as you can, and then a little more often. If it hurts, you're doing it right.

9. Wayfind. (Pivoting is bullshit.)

Every strategy treatise in history notes that plans are only good as a reference once things actually start happening. The world is big, people are unpredictable, and you're likely to find yourself partway along your business plan, with a dead end where you were planning to go, and an opportunity you couldn't have seen from the start. Pay attention, and go after opportunities.

But that doesn't mean losing hold of your why, of the particular itch that pushed you to start your company in the first place. Don't "pivot" to something unrelated just because it looks like easy money. Stick to your values. You'll thank yourself in the long run.

10. Measure everything, and then understand.

We are all running around with brains full of cognitive biases, half-truths, and mental shortcuts. It's not so bad at the grocery store. It is deadly serious for a business. Measure everything you can, and invest time in understanding the results of what you're measuring.

Get real numbers that help you understand all aspects of your business, and then use those numbers to try things, see if they work, and improve. Nobody has been where you're going before. So just try something, see what happens, and learn. Science!

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