To be an entrepreneur you have to be willing to jump into the deep end. And that takes courage.
But courage is just the beginning. At a fundamental level, most entrepreneurs need to repeatedly overcome adversity and pursue opportunities with very limited resources.
My path as an entrepreneur has been marked by the adversity I’ve experienced in my own life and the struggles I’ve witnessed in the lives of others. As I get ready to launch my next two ventures, I wanted to share what I think are the five most essential principles (pulled from many of my previous posts here on Fastcompany.com) that I believe are must-haves for any entrepreneurial journey.
Nobody succeeds in a silo. The majority of our life’s travels include a partner or two or many. Be it a significant other, friend, or business colleague, we are most likely with some company. If I've learned anything from my entrepreneurial journey, it's that our choice of partners—be it a life partner, cofounder, management team, investors, or board members—can make or break a venture.
The people we surround ourselves with make the difference between failure and success. It’s not only whom we surround ourselves with that matters, but also how we interact with them that makes the difference. It's important to be reminded of the people who believe in and support us and to cultivate those relationships. Spending time with people who make us stronger requires intentional effort and is a key component in being able to move forward.
Equally important is to avoid people who bring us down, waste our time, take us backward, and have no interest in our suffering. A close friend constantly reminds me to "get rid of toxic people from your daily life." While we cannot always avoid them, at a minimum we can choose not to allow them to weaken us.
Our job, then, is to continuously search for those right companions at each new stage. It is only when the right person shows up that we get to see why it has never worked out with anyone else.
In the psychology community, creative visualization refers to the practice of seeking to affect the outer world by changing one's thoughts and expectations. It is practiced extensively in the professional sports community.
Successful people like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Will Smith all claim to practice visualization. Actor Jim Carrey says that he wrote a check to himself in 1987 in the sum of $10 million. He dated it "Thanksgiving 1995" and added the notation: "for acting services rendered." He visualized it for years, and in 1994 he received $10 million for his role in the movie Dumb and Dumber.
Okay, since most of us are neither sages nor celebrities, how do we practice visualization? As an entrepreneur, author, technologist, and a dreamer, I have taught myself three basic approaches in the hopes of manifesting my own future:
Imagine myself in the final stage (of my goals, my products, my companies, my personal life, etc.).
Study patterns (of my surroundings, my markets, my skills, my behaviors, my reactions, etc.).
Practice rituals (to be disciplined about my devotion, to recover from my defeats, to thrive, to achieve a higher degree of confidence, etc.)
Visualization can be a key method of coping with and moving beyond obstacles and challenges.
Today's innovative "social economy" requires entrepreneurs to create positive memories for customers and partners, or customers will turn to a competitor in search of a better experience. If we want to create a scalable business, we have to understand just how crucial it is to build products and services with brand equity and emotional connections. The emotional attachment that links customers to our products, as opposed to any other, translates into sustainable growth.
Here are some basic rules to connect, shape, influence, and lead with our products and brands:
Choose our target audience: The surest road to product failure is to try to be all things to all people and to be overly complex.
Connect with the public: Our objective is to make our audience feel an emotional attachment to our products and brands.
Inspire and influence our audience: A simple, inspirational product and brand message is far more influential than one that highlights many product features and functions.
Creating a unique product and a unique brand isn't enough. It takes repeatable sales processes to create a scalable business. It is one thing to sign up a few customers; it is another thing entirely to identify, design, and implement repeatable sales and customer-delivery processes. We have created a repeatable and scalable sales model when:
We can add new hires at the same productivity level as the entrepreneur or the sales leader.
We can increase the sources of our customer leads on a consistent basis.
Our sales conversion rate and revenue can be consistently forecasted.
Our cost to acquire a new customer is significantly less than the amount we can earn from that customer over time.
Our customers get the right product in the right place at the right time.
A repeatable sales model builds the platform to scale. Like the search for product and market fit, it can take major experimentation and R&D to find a repeatable and scalable sales model.
Several decades ago, the term mindfulness was used to imply Eastern mysticism related to the spiritual journey of a person, originated by Gautama Buddha. Buddhists believe that being ‘well, happy, and peaceful’ comes from practicing ‘mindful’ living.
Today, from self-help gurus to business leaders and scientists to politicians, many talk about mindfulness. Mindfulness has been described as "bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis" (Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999)
In college, at my janitorial graveyard shift, I had a supervisor who used to remind me every night to "be kind to the floor, buff her carefully—and then see how well she shines." At those particular moments, nothing else mattered—only the shine on the buffed floor. It taught me to lose myself completely in an utterly mundane task. Being in the moment allows us to escape from adversity and conserve our inner energy.
Living in the moment doesn't mean we don’t care about the future. It means that when we make a choice to do something, we focus solely on doing just that, rather than letting our mind wander into the future (or the past). It means single-tasking rather than switching between a multitude of tasks and focusing on none of them.
In the end, there is no exact formula for entrepreneurship. It is unique for each individual. You cannot follow someone else’s journey to success, either. That journey is uniquely yours.
[Image: Flickr user Christopher Sessums]