My advice for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs: What I wish I’d known when starting my first business
Good people are invaluable, average people are expensive
Surround yourself with the right people in your first business, from the start. Good people find answers, self motivate, think of others and have no problem understanding that some decisions are difficult and will create short term pressure. They think of the company as a place to learn, to grow and to be part of a team.
Average people can’t empathise with the team, create more work rather than less and are always focused on the trivial things. They see the company as a means to an end, are more often than not inwardly focussed, seeking reward for its own sake. All of this takes extra management, direction and education on your part. Manage them out and move on.
Make decisions fast, then move on
In the early days with my first business, I would procrastinate and try and think through every decision, but I’ve since learned that being decisive is the best trick of all. I’ve made some decisions during my career that could have been done differently with the benefit of hindsight, but the things I used to drag my heels on have cost me more in mental effort and lost energy. Overall it’s just easier to get on with things and then learn from the mistakes when you have to.
Partnerships don’t work (most of the time)
I’ve been involved with affiliates, partnerships, contra deals – you name it. None have worked except one and that was because the other party involved (192.com) was willing to put as much in as I was and actually did what they said they would with no other agenda. In short, I avoid any type of partnership now unless there’s a really compelling case that shows the financial rewards ‘could’ be offset by some intangible benefit such as combined PR.
Big companies are slow
Big companies like to make decisions by committee. This means attending lots of meetings to try and get ‘buy in’ from the many rather than the few. Yes there could be a ‘big deal’ on the horizon but you’ll be exhausted and probably bored by the time it happens and I can almost guarantee that the big company staffers don’t even want to participate. As the line in Braveheart goes: “Campbell, your meetings are a waste of time”.
I wish I could master these as they’re always hard to balance. A middle ground can be found somewhere between wanting and needing feedback versus talking shops, opinion by committee and non specific objectives. To make your internal meetings work smarter, promote your key people and then break the big tasks down into small ones that they can lead. Get them to present your options to you once they’ve done their work so you can then make the decisions through your team leaders in small groups. Done. Although I think we’re all still learning this one.
Don’t be surprised when the tax man takes the money he’s due. If you do get caught out though, make sure it only happens once.
Don’t forget your families, friends and the rest of your life outside of work. It’s easy to be so focused on your first business that you wake up one day with no hobbies and nothing else to talk about. It’s bad for you and more importantly it’s boring for everyone else. So go for a cycle, learn a skill, develop a hobby, anything. Whatever you do, just do something and rebalance your life.
If you have a family then doing this can be even harder, what with the familiar pattern of work > family > work (rinse and repeat). You need something to help you let off steam and meet new people. For me it was jumping out of planes, for you it might be knitting. Who cares, just do it.