When it comes to entrepreneurship, one of the most common mistakes young dreamers make is not knowing the challenges that lie ahead. They approach the craft with this idea that entrepreneurship will be filled with sports cars, vacations to Bali, a perfectly productive team, and critical acclaim from all the major publications.
The truth is, entrepreneurship is actually a never-ending road of obstacles wherein only the fittest survive. As my mentor told me many times, “It always takes twice as long and costs twice as much.” If you think the app will be done in three months, assume six. If you think your costs for the first year will be about $100,000, they will probably be double. So much of entrepreneurship is about dealing with what comes along the way, and knowing that no matter how much you try to plan things out, there will always be unforeseen challenges.
Here are Nine brutal truths you need to understand before you set out on your journey:
You Need To Know What You Don’t Know
So many aspiring entrepreneurs (especially the young ones) dive right into it. They graduate college and immediately set out to build a company, or the next social media app, or an agency of their own, without really questioning what it is they don’t know. It’s one thing to say, “I’m sure I can figure it out,” and entirely another to admit to yourself, “I know that I don’t know very much about operations, so I am going to seek out someone I can learn from.”
In order to stay on track and move forward successfully, you have to know what you don’t know—and then deliberately get your questions answered so that you can learn and improve.
Not-Asking Is A Weakness
Too often, people think of asking questions as a sign of weakness. Especially young founders, or those who are quick to call themselves a “CEO” (CEO of what?), think it’s better to pretend to have it all figured out than to set their ego aside to learn.
If you are getting into entrepreneurship, you need to know when to leave your pride at the door and humbly admit, “I don’t know what to do here.” Nobody is going to want to answer your questions or help you if, in the process, you are operating from a false sense of confidence.
Success Doesn’t Happen Alone
There is absolutely something to be said for taking accountability for what you bring to the table, but at the same time you need to also acknowledge that you aren’t a lonely ship at sea. In order to build anything of value, and in order to get to where it is you want to be, you are going to need to work with others.
Success is a game of collaboration. Even if people aren’t directly involved in your project, they may still play roles in making introductions or answering questions along the way. Again, put your pride aside and look for ways to collaborate and create friendships and partnerships with people along the way. You will need them.
Anything Great Takes Time
This idea of “overnight success” is one of the greatest lies of entrepreneurship, period. There is no such thing as “overnight success.” Sure, there are moments where things click, or big moves are finally made, but those all come after years, sometimes a decade of trying things, tweaking things, failing and learning, pivoting and adjusting.
Patience is a key pillar in the art of entrepreneurship, and without it you will fail. You will give up. You will make short-sighted decisions, and forget to step back and see the forest instead of the trees.
Instead, focus on the next thing you can do better, the next improvement, and just keep moving forward.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
Another valuable lesson I learned from my mentor: just because you have the option of entering a certain market or pursuing a specific idea, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. For example: a lot of people set out to open restaurants because they love food. Or a lot of young and aspiring entrepreneurs try to create the next Facebook or Snapchat.
There is a difference between being able to do something and actually having a sound knowledge base to bring it to life successfully. There’s a difference between loving food and knowing how to build a profitable restaurant. And knowing where you fall between those two spectrums is important.
You Aren’t Building An Idea. You Are Building A Business
Too many aspiring entrepreneurs focus on trying to build what sounds great in theory, without grounding it in everyday reality. Remember: You aren’t just building something for the sake of building it, or because it sounds cool. You’re building a business—something that needs to provide value to customers/users, and will ultimately generate revenue.
The last part there, the “generating revenue” part, is something that gets skipped over so often. Entrepreneurs boast their page views or user base, while at the same time trying to mask the fact that they have no idea how they’re going to actually make money. And it’s not enough to point to the Twitter’s of the world and say, “That’s what we want to build!” Someone is going to end up paying for it—most likely an investor. But that investor is also going to want to see a return on their investment, so you need to know how you plan on building this idea of yours into a profitable business.
Ideas Are Only As Good As The People Who Execute Them
I was extremely fortunate to have been mentored by a successful serial entrepreneur, so I give credit where credit is due. This is a lesson in particular I learned from Ron Gibori, Managing Partner of Idea Booth. He is the one who made me realize that anyone can come up with a great idea. Great ideas are everywhere. And multiple people can pursue the same idea. But the reason why one person wins and the other person doesn’t quite succeed is because of the person executing it—not the idea itself.
If Your Company Is Your Main Hustle, Your Personal Brand Needs To Be Your Side Hustle
In today’s business economy, it is more important than ever for entrepreneurs to consider how they are going to pivot down the road. What happens if you are put out of business? What happens if your app idea fails? Where do you move next (and how do you do that effectively) after this first project is either successful or has failed?
Every entrepreneur should be investing some portion of time into building their personal brand. This means choosing a segment of the market that they want to become a thought leader in and then picking one or two platforms to publish content on a regular basis. For example: If you are an entrepreneur building a social media app, you might want to consider writing actively about social media and social marketing on Quora, Medium, or LinkedIn.
Thought leadership, and having a personal brand, is what will allow you longevity. If one pursuit fails, or succeeds, and you’re ready to pivot and move on to something else, your audience will move with you. And it’ll make the next step that much easier.
If You Are Chasing The Money, You Will Miss The Bigger Opportunity
To be honest, this has more to do with just a lack of fulfillment. The cliché goes, “Don’t chase the money, it won’t lead you to happiness.” And that’s true.
But the bigger and more meaningful reason you shouldn’t get into entrepreneurship with the dream of becoming a multi-millionaire is because you will miss the greatest gift of all if you hyper-focus on financial gain.
Really great ideas, game-changing ideas, businesses and products and brands that end up changing the world for the better are not the result of chasing money. They are profitable, yes. They are sustainable and operationally sound. But they are not driven by those concepts. They are present, like deckhands aboard a ship, but they are not the captain.
In order to build something that brings you a deep sense of fulfillment and provides a ton of value to other people, you have to be driven by something deeper than money. And if you can stay true to that, and build a profitable business at the same time, you will find yourself truly successful.