My story encapsulates the American dream: I was in debt, started with nothing but $100, and built a multimillion-dollar company. It didn’t come easy; it took a lot of blood, sweat and some tears too. In the 16 years it took me to find success, these are the most important lessons I learned.
Failure Is Necessary
As an entrepreneur, you will inevitably experience failure. What you must understand, however, is that failure is good because it saves you time. When you fail, you know what not to do. The key is to identify failure, and stop chasing it. If something is not working within the first month, change course. I lost years chasing ideas that the market told me very early on were wrong. The market will tell you the truth very quickly; it’s us entrepreneurs who fail to admit it. Don’t be afraid of failing. It’s the best way to take corrective actions.
It’ll Be Harder Than You Think
I was always taught that starting a business will take twice as long as you planned, and cost twice as much. After failing miserably with seven consecutive businesses, I proved this theory wrong. It will take four times as long, and cost you four times as much.Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Time is more valuable than excellence. Early on in your business, you won’t know whether your ideas are really the right ones. There is no better way of knowing if what you have to offer has a place in the market than by putting it out there.
I spent years perfecting a product that ultimately nobody ever bought. I would have saved tons of time and money by launching it when it was less than perfect. This goes for your website and logo too: I used to spend countless hours and dollars getting my logo just right — from the color to the font. But a logo doesn’t make the company. See if your business succeeds first, then spend time on your branding.
It took me 12 years and eight different companies to finally find the right idea. If I had given up after the first, second or third idea, I wouldn’t have made it to where I am now. Make sure you’re in a position in life where it’s OK for you to fail — a lot.
Don’t Get Emotional
When running a business, feelings don’t let you see with clarity; they get in the way of the truth. Emotions can cloud your vision when making important decisions, and you won’t want to hear anyone say anything negative about your business. This immediately skews your perspective and causes you to not think objectively. It makes you deaf to key information, which will drain you of time and money. Trust your gut, not your feelings.
Don’t Ask Friends for Advice
Listen to people who have entrepreneurial experience. Don’t consult with your mom or your friend if they have never run a business. They’ll tell you what you want to hear because they care about you, and what you want to hear is never good advice when starting a business. You need to hear the cold truth about your idea and your strategy.
Sell to Those Who Can Afford to Buy
One of my mentors used to use the analogy, “Why do robbers rob banks?” Well, that’s where the money is. When selecting your customer, go after the ones with money. Don’t sell to consumers who will nickel-and-dime you. Business is hard enough, so remove as many barriers as possible and sell to customers who can afford to buy. It will increase your chances of success.
Break the Rules
Don’t be afraid to break the rules. When you’re small, you may think you’re the center of attention and that everyone is watching you, but the fact is that nobody is, and nobody cares. Sometimes, bending the rules is necessary to save time to prove your concept or quickly get ahead. Once you do, millions of people will start taking notice.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.