written by

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.

Watch the video version of this article or scroll to continue reading.

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.

Tip #1: Keep An Income

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.

Tips #2: Make Entrepreneurship A Priority

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.

Tip 3: Learn The Fundamental Skills

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.

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Graphic Design
  • Web Development
  • Operations & Logistics
  • Accounting & Legal
  • Product Development
  • Photo & Video Production

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.

Tip #4: Follow Interests

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.

Tip 5: Focus On Solving Problems

All successful companies provide solutions to problems people are willing to pay for.

To give you a few examples:

  • Netflix solves boredom with entertainment
  • Gyms solve fitness and obesity problems with exercise
  • And TurboTax makes the complicated process of filing your taxes easy

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.

Tip #6: It’s Ok To Reinvent The Wheel

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.

Tip #7: Find Good Partners

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.

In A Nutshell

Here’s a summary of this article.

To build wealth:

  • Keep an income until your company is profitable.
  • There is no easy button. Building a successful company takes time. Therefore, you have to make entrepreneurship a priority.
  • Most successful businesses operate using a set of fundamental skills. Learn those skills.
  • Entrepreneurship is one giant experiment. Follow interests, learn, and adapt.
  • All successful companies provide solutions to problems people are willing to pay for. Therefore your product should solve a problem.
  • Many people find entrepreneurial success with common businesses. Remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
  • Save yourself many headaches. Complete your due diligence before you bring on business partners.

Books That Influenced This Article

The following book links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book after clicking one of the links, I will receive a commission.

Your Next Five Moves
Book | Audiobook | Kindle

The New Rules Of Marketing & PR
Book | Audiobook | Kindle

The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team
Book | Audiobook | Kindle

  1. D. Clark. Estimated number of companies worldwide from 2000 to 2021. statista.com. (August 15, 20222).
  2. The Complete List Of Unicorn Companies. CBINSIGHTS


Chris Thornham 80/20 Financial Planner
Take Control Of Your Finances

Reduce financial stress, reach financial freedom, and achieve financial goals like buying a home, paying off debt, and investing for retirement.

Ten Thousand Dollar Giveaway Sweepstakes Entry Contract

By entering this Ten Thousand Dollar Giveaway Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”), you agree to the following terms and conditions:

1. Eligibility: This Sweepstakes is open only to legal residents of the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia, who are 18 years of age or older at the time of entry. Employees, contractors, directors, and officers of ChrisThornham.com LLC, its affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising, promotion, and fulfillment agencies, and their immediate family members and persons living in their same households, are not eligible to participate.

2. How to Enter: To enter, visit https://christhornham.com/ten-thousand-dollar-giveaway, and complete the entry form with a valid email address. No purchase is necessary. Only one entry per person is permitted. Automated, robotic, or programmed entries are not allowed, and any such entries will be void.

3. Winner Selection: The winner will be selected in a random drawing from among all eligible entries received. The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. The winner will be notified by email and will have 30 days to respond and claim the prize.

4. Prize: The prize for this Sweepstakes is $10,000 USD. No substitution or transfer of the prize is permitted, and no other alternative will be offered. All taxes, fees, and other expenses related to the prize are the sole responsibility of the winner. The prize will only be awarded if at least 10,000 eligible entries are received during the Sweepstakes period. If less than 10,000 eligible entries are received, ChrisThornham.com LLC reserves the right to cancel the Sweepstakes, in which case no prize will be awarded. ChrisThornham.com LLC may, at its discretion, extend the Sweepstakes period in order to reach the minimum number of eligible entries required to award the prize.

5. General Conditions: By entering this Sweepstakes, you agree to be bound by these official rules and the decisions of ChrisThornham.com LLC, which are final and binding in all respects. ChrisThorrnham.com LLC reserves the right to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry process, violates these official rules, or acts in a disruptive or unsportsmanlike manner. The use of any automated or programmed entry method or any other means to obtain multiple entries is prohibited and will result in disqualification.

6. Release and Limitations of Liability: By participating in this Sweepstakes, you agree to release and hold harmless ChrisThornham.com LLC, its affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising, promotion, and fulfillment agencies, and their respective directors, officers, employees, and agents from any and all liability, injury, loss, or damage of any kind arising from or in connection with your participation in the Sweepstakes, the awarding, receipt, use, or misuse of any prize, or any other matter related to the Sweepstakes. ChrisThornham.com LLC is not responsible for any incorrect or inaccurate information, technical failures, or any other errors or problems that may occur in connection with the Sweepstakes, including any injury or damage to your computer or mobile device.

7. Governing Law: This Sweepstakes is governed by the laws of California, without regard to its conflict of law provisions.

8. Privacy Policy: Information collected from entrants is subject to ChrisThornham.com LLC’s privacy policy, which can be found at https://christhornham.com/privacy.

9. ChrisThornham.com LLC reserves the right to modify, suspend, or terminate the Sweepstakes, in whole or in part, for any reason, including but not limited to any error, technical problem, fraud, or any other cause beyond the reasonable control of the company that affects the administration, security, fairness, or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In the event of any such modification, suspension, or termination, the company may, in its sole discretion, choose to extend or shorten the Sweepstakes period by up to one year from the original end date of May 4, 2023.

By entering this Sweepstakes, you acknowledge that you have read and understood these official rules and agree to be bound by them. If you do not agree to these terms, do not enter the Sweepstakes.