As a former young entrepreneur myself (now I’m 30), I’ve decided to share my insights from my past experiences — all the types of things that I wish someone had passed on to me when I was first starting out.
1. Do what you love.
When I graduated from college I worked at a job that I didn’t like because it paid me well. I hated to go into work each day. I admit that entrepreneurs typically make the worst employees because they want to be out there growing their own enterprise. Figure out what you love and then become the best that there is at it.
Your passion for your product or service will keep you motivated and get you through the tough times. Yes, there will be challenging moments. But when you work on something that you actually care about (as opposed to just trying to make a quick buck), you’ll probably be happy, have direction and fight as hard as you can to make this crazy idea of yours become a reality.
2. Stay focused.
It’s awfully tempting to jump from project to project, especially when it seems as if a million opportunities are flying by. But don’t become distracted from the big picture. Instead of working on multiple projects, stay on track and complete the task at hand. If you’re working on multiple projects, you can spread yourself too thin, which will have an effect on your performance, productivity and resources. Perfect that one thing instead of working on five so-so projects.
3. Exploit online resources.
The Internet is a gold mine of resources. For example, visit the site of the U.S. Small Business Administration for advice about writing business plans, legal considerations, loans and even local resources to help you get that startup off the ground. Other awesome online resources are the websites of SCORE, America’s Small Business Development Center, Bplans, VentureBeat and, of course, Newspodge.com.
4. Find a mentor.
Whether you turn to a local entrepreneur, a business leader or a weathered vet that you meet through LinkedIn, having a mentor is one of the best resources you can have. Not only might a mentor have experience (such as dealing with venture capitalists), he or she also could possess an extensive network and help you connect with the right people to make your startup a success.
Don’t be afraid to cold call or email a big name in the industry. Many of these big names like to help younger entrepreneurs as a way of giving back. I met my mentor when I was 12. He was the owner of a large carpet store. I was his paper boy. I delivered his paper in the perfect location every day for three months till one day I saw him. I asked him straight up, Will you be my mentor? He said yes. He’s still a mentor to me today along with many other people.
5. Take care of yourself.
I was a young go-getter once. (At age 12 I started my first candy stand and had three at one point.) I know exactly how it is: You think that you’re invincible. Here’s the breaking news: You’re not.
As an entrepreneur, you might find it easy to push aside healthy lifestyle essentials, such as getting exercise, eating a balanced diet and securing enough sleep. But what good will you be if you’re tired or your immune system if weak? Plus, exercise is a great way to relieve some stress.
Don’t forget to make time for yourself. You need to take a break from work or you might burn yourself out. I personally love to listen to books and have since I was a kid. I’m not very good at reading as I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder so I listen to books. Find what works for you!
6. Define your market.
Failing to define the market is a common mistake of a lot of young entrepreneurs. Always remember to consider if your business plan makes sense for your market. If you’re dreaming up a late-pizza delivery service, do you start it in a business district or a college town? There are a number of ways for you to try to define your market, such as by demographics or psychological factors.
I always hear people in the fashion industry tell me that their world is a $1.2 trillion market. Technically they may be correct. But if your product is hipster pants, the market isn’t $1.2 trillion. How many hipsters are there in the world? How many of them would purchase your product on a yearly basis?
7. Be able to explain your business at a whim.
You never know when you’ll have to explain your business. You could run into an investor in an elevator or end up making a sales pitch to a customer while out to eat. Always be ready to clearly and quickly state your mission, service and product or goals.
This is something I learned from Derek Anderson, the founder of Startup Grind, which hosts events for entrepreneurs. He took me to lunch about three years ago and asked me what I did and the business I was promoting. I really didn’t know how to answer. Since then I have refined my pitch so that when someone asks me what I do, I can tell them in five words or less. Practice your 5-second, 15-second and 1-minute pitch over and over. This will help you be able to explain your business to anyone out there in any situation.
8. Remember, you run a startup.
Just because you secured some funding that doesn’t give you the right to act like you’re a rock star. A luxury home, an office with an actual shark tank or a really fast car are all just a big waste of money, especially in the beginning. Remember, you run a little-known startup (and you’re not Richard Branson overseeing a large successful company). Be careful about managing your cash flow and make sure that you keep track of expenses. That’s not being cheap. It’s being wise. You don’t want to burn through all your cash too early.
9. There are still rules.
A major perk that comes with being an entrepreneur is that you’re the boss. You can make your own hours and develop your vision of a company. In short, you’re doing whatever you want. And it’s awesome. But there are some rules that all entrpereneurs have to follow like registering your business and paying taxes. These are just some of the not-so-much fun things you have to handle. If not, you’re going to be in just a little bit of trouble.
10. Know when to fold ’em.
Sure, I’ve had success running and selling several different companies, but do you know how many I’ve started and stopped because they weren’t taking off? Tons. Some say 9 out of every 10 business fail within the first couple years.
Don’t let your pride get in the way of closing your company. I learned this the hard way in college when I launched what became my first failure, Utefan. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t going to work or make money. I kept putting money into it and spending time on it. Eventually I had to give up my pride and stop. Know when to let go.
If you’re not familiar with the classic Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler,”then stop what you’re doing and check it out. It offers some of the best advice ever. Why? Just like any great gambler, you have to know when to fold ’em. Instead of continuing to work on a fledgling business, it’s best to walk away and reflect on what went wrong. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s inevitable. And you’ll take that lesson with on your next venture.