When I was 24, I graduated as a mechanical engineer, and the week I started my first job, I knew I made a mistake.
I assumed engineers worked exciting jobs designing cool products. But, unfortunately, my first few days on the job couldn’t have been further from that reality.
Instead of designing interesting products, I sat in a cubicle searching for errors in thousands of pages of design specifications. This task felt like the mental equivalent of reading the phone book to look for typos.
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The icing on the cake that week came when my cubicle neighbor—a now bitter and angry man in his 60s—told me he had been doing my job for the past 40 years.
As a sudden feeling of despair rushed through my body, I knew I needed to escape the rat race.
At the time, I knew nothing about becoming an entrepreneur. I had never taken a business course, didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, and was nearly $50,000 in student debt.
But, over the next few years, I slowly turned myself into an entrepreneur. I failed initially but went on to build an eight-figure e-commerce business that completely changed my life.
In this article, I’ll share what I learned and discuss seven things I wish I had known before I started. In doing so, I hope to make your entrepreneurial journey easier.
In the early 1500s, Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes noticed his men expressed doubt and wanted to return home after their ships landed on the shores of Mexico.
To address this doubt, Cortes ordered his men to burn the ships, preventing them from returning.
Since then, the phrase “burning the boats” has become synonymous with dedication to a goal. The idea is simple: you must commit if you eliminate any safety nets or escape routes.
For this reason, many people tell new entrepreneurs to “burn the boats” by quitting their jobs. Doing so gives them more time to work on their business. It also forces them to focus on making money since they no longer have an income.
In general, I think this is terrible advice. That’s because the average business takes 2-3 years to make a profit. So, unless you are born with a trust fund, you’ll need an income to pay your bills and fund the business.
New businesses have expenses like legal fees, web hosting, and product development. Therefore, quitting your job does nothing but guarantee you’ll run out of money.
Ideally, you’ll want to find a job that covers your costs and gives you enough time to work on your business. So if you work 80 hours per week at a law firm, you might need to find a new job.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, you could accept funding, but typically that means giving up a large percentage of your business. Or perhaps you still live at home with no financial responsibilities. But generally, you’ll want to keep an income until your business becomes profitable.
It’s easy to search for the easy button when starting a business. But do yourself a favor and read through the beginning stories of a few companies on the Fortune 500. In doing so, you won’t find an owner who says, “I just bought a passive income course, and now I’m rich.”
Despite what online gurus tell you, building a profitable business takes years of hard work. So if you want to become a successful entrepreneur, you have to prioritize your business.
If you’re like most people, you’re already busy. Therefore, to find time to work on your business, you must make sacrifices and use any leverage you have.
Concerning sacrifices, that might mean giving up Netflix, video games, or non-essential hobbies.
And regarding leverage, you might listen to audiobooks or business courses while you commute. Or, you might leverage your abundance of free time if you’re young with few responsibilities.
From the outside, individual businesses look different because they have distinct branding and products. But behind the scenes, many companies look alike. That’s because most successful businesses operate using a set of fundamental skills.
Therefore, if you want to become a successful entrepreneur, it’s vital that you learn these skills. Here’s a list of skills you’ll need to understand.
This list might feel overwhelming, but remember that you can apply these skills to any business after you learn them. So while your product, service, or brand might change, these business principles won’t. Therefore, it’s a good idea to learn these fundamental entrepreneurial skills before you bet the farm on any particular business.
When I started my first business, I believed I had to have the perfect strategy. With the right business plan, I thought I could execute a list of steps and find success. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Few companies turn out as planned. That’s because business is experimental, meaning you learn and adapt as you go. Therefore, locking yourself into a rigid plan holds you back.
For this reason, I tell most new entrepreneurs to let go of the desire to build the perfect business plan and instead follow their interests. With this approach, you hone in on success one step at a time.
For example, you might have an idea for a new product. But, after talking with ten different manufacturers, you might discover it’s too expensive to produce. However, what you learn in the process might spark an idea for another product that leads to success.
The bottom line here is simple. Just get started. Find something interesting and see if you can turn it into a business. If not, take what you learn and try again.
All successful companies provide solutions to problems people are willing to pay for.
To give you a few examples:
So, when designing a product or service, consider what problem you are solving. If that’s not obvious, your business likely won’t succeed.
Remember, the more painful a problem becomes, the more someone will pay to solve it. And products are more likely to sell if they are easy to use. Therefore, you should aim to create easy solutions to people’s most painful problems.
When considering what problems to solve, remember that three business categories will always have high demand. Those are health, wealth, and relationships. So if you can help people get healthier, wealthier, or find love, you’re off to a good start.
My first business was a new idea the world had never seen. So on top of learning how to become an entrepreneur, I also had to convince people that they should buy a product they’d never heard of. Ultimately, combining these two challenges was more than I could handle, and the business failed.
Soon after, I spoke with a successful entrepreneur who said the following.
“You know, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Why don’t you create a product that people already understand? That way, you eliminate the challenge of getting people to understand your product.”
I applied his advice to my next business, and it worked.
The main point here goes against much of the advice you hear online. Many preach the idea of a blue-ocean product, which is a product with no competition. But generally, I think this is a theoretical idea at best. Because even if you create a blue-ocean product, people will take note and develop competing products.
So rather than trying to create the next Google or billion-dollar startup, it might help if you set your sites a little lower.
I know that sounds uninspiring, but there are currently 334 million businesses worldwide1. And since the beginning of time, only 1,200 have reached a billion-dollar evaluation2. Therefore, your odds of creating a truly unique, billion-dollar company are nearly nonexistent.
Here’s the main point. Thousands of people have achieved financial freedom and millionaire status by doing everyday things like opening restaurants, operating storage facilities, and building e-commerce brands. So if your goal is to break free from punching the clock while increasing your earning potential, recognize that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Starting a business takes an enormous amount of work. Thankfully, business partners can reduce the time it takes to get started and offset your weaknesses. But before you pick your business partners, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.
First, you should fundamentally get along. You’ll spend a lot of time with your business partners, and everything will be easier if you like them.
You’ll also want committed business partners. If you work 10-hour days, but your partners only work a few hours per week, that will likely become a problem.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you have similar visions. So make sure you agree on company culture, operations, and potential exit strategies.
It’s also helpful if you and your partners have complementary strengths. For instance, if you have a finance background and know little about sales and marketing, you’ll want to find a business partner who understands sales and marketing, not another accountant.
Additionally, you’ll want to pick business partners who can deal with conflict and disagreements in a mature and respectful manner. You’ll inevitably have disagreements, and when you do, you don’t want to deal with someone who is overly emotional and immature.
Finally, regardless of how great everything sounds initially, you’ll want to make everything official with an operating agreement or company bylaws, which are legal documents that outline a company’s management, operations, and ownership. You might have to pay a lawyer to prepare these documents, but it’s money well spent. That’s because these documents can save you if things go wrong in the future.
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