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June 30, 2020

Lessons for a first-time entrepreneur — A strong work ethic and hard work are not enough

Awhile back, I had a conversation with someone who wanted to start a business. At the end of it, he said, "I am going to work hard, devote my life to this and see where things go." If you think this is enough to succeed, I can assure you that you will prove yourself wrong. I tried to explain to him that he needs to do more. Like him, you might also have this idea because there are so many stories of entrepreneurs who worked hard and never gave up until they succeeded.

What you may not know is that there is an even higher number of people who worked hard, never gave up, but failed repeatedly and never succeeded. You rarely hear any of their stories. Why would you? Failures are treated with contempt by society, people want to hear success stories to give themselves encouragement. One would think that learning from these failures might help newcomers not make the same mistake, but as a society, we somehow reject these learning experiences. Then, there are stories of successful people and their past failures, just to make them relatable. Typically these failures are overly exaggerated and blown out of proportion to make everyone reading their story to wow at them for what they managed to overcome. On a grand scheme of things, these lessons are insignificant compared to the lessons we can learn from those who really failed.

Enough of my rant, let's come back to reality for a bit.

A strong work ethic and having that never give up attitude is essential. The point is, it's not the only thing you need to succeed. I would say that there is one other crucial element that's far more important.

The strategy will underpin everything else you will do.

If you like walking into oncoming traffic with a blindfold on, you won't need a business strategy. I don't believe any rational person want to do this, so let's get started.

Set clear goals, timelines, and follow them. Simple, right? No. Be realistic with your goals and deadlines. Give yourself a good buffer between how long you think something will take and what it might actually take. I always make this mistake. Sometimes, this might be the result of external factors, but most of the time, it's because I want to get things done fast, so I gave myself so little time to do them. A simple formula I came up with to avoid this mess is to always double or triple the time I think a task should take, even if I think it's too long.

Be decisive when executing your plan. Don't ever think you have to stick to the same plan just to save face. If your ego takes a hit, let it — better your ego than your startup. At the same time, there could always be room for improvement, so even when things are going the way you want, experiment. The biggest takeaway is to be flexible. Don't be stubborn. Do what's best for your startup, not you.

A strong work ethic means sacrifices

A strong work ethic has ramifications, and it tends to be the sacrifices you must make. Being an entrepreneur is usually not easy, and to add to that, you must also have to make sacrifices personally and professionally. I can think of everything from giving up a steady paycheque to missing important moments with your family. Whether all this is worth is something you must decide for yourself, because there is a good chance you will not succeed at all in your endeavor.

Be resilient

You are going to stumble and fall while you go through life. For a new entrepreneur, this might be the norm on a more regular basis until the startup reaches maturity. Having the resolve to overcome momentary failures will ensure your survival as an entrepreneur.

To overcome this, you only have to do one thing. Don't take failures personally. For most, it's tough. Even after so many years, I simply can't do this. To overcome it, I do have 3 simple pieces of advice.

One, don't ever make any decisions when you are down. Give yourself time to recover.

Two, look at the bigger picture in context to your failure. Prioritize the bigger picture.

Three, learn from your failure and change accordingly. There is a great quote by John Wooden about this, "Failure isn't fatal, but failure to change might be."

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