4 Things Every Startup Founder Should Know … and Remember

I believe the term you could use for someone like me is “serial entrepreneur.” Although I’ve been running my area’s leading ophthalmology practice for more than 26 years, I’ve continued to start additional businesses and organizations and partner with friends and business peers to bring new ideas to life over the course of my career. A quick Google search will tell you that about 30 percent of entrepreneurs find themselves in a similar situation. For successful business leaders, entrepreneurship tends to have that effect.

In addition to leading Eye Centers of Tennessee, I’ve had the privilege of co-founding a business incubator called The Biz Foundry in Cookeville, Tennessee. In just over 10 years, we’ve worked with seemingly countless entrepreneurs at varying stages, raised approximately $15 million, opened two new locations, helped start a micro-lending fund, and even launched an angel investment fund—a rarity for a town in rural Tennessee. That experience, coupled with the knowledge I’ve cultivated throughout my career, has put me in a unique position to not only understand what challenges young businesses commonly run up against, but also to help them push through those difficulties.

Today, I’d like to share four things young executives and entrepreneurs should keep in mind as they navigate the challenging but rewarding journey of business ownership.

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  1. You made this decision on your own. Live with it.

If you’ve found yourself running your own business, that means that at some point, you decided that you don’t want to be an employee. Remember that it was you who made that decision. At some point in your journey — whether that’s tomorrow or five years from now — you’re going to run into a challenge. Remember you did this to yourself — there’s no one else to blame.

That may seem like a tough pill to swallow, but there is freedom, as well as a unique sense of accomplishment, in this reality. For a long time in my career, I kept a card in a drawer in my desk that simply said, “I am responsible.” While those difficult moments can feel lonely at times, they’re also all yours. You get to decide how to navigate them — you’re not at the mercy of someone else’s decisions. And don’t forget that the successes belong to you as well.

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  1. You WILL get beat up.

Similar to the section above, know that your experience in entrepreneurship is not going to be without difficulties. Customers will write bad reviews, you’ll run into a roadblock with licensing, a competitor will open up in your space. There’s an endless list of things that could go wrong, and some of them may seem impossible to recover from — heck, your business might even fail. Many, many times throughout this journey, you’re going to get hit with things that are unpleasant. Remember that this is part of life. Expect challenges, and be ready for them.

So, what’s the positive here? All the fights you fight will make you stronger. The cool thing about entrepreneurship is that there’s almost no way to lose. If your first plan doesn’t work, go try another one. Find something that does.

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  1. Be disciplined enough to give your customers what they want.


While this is important to keep in mind from the beginning, it’s especially important for folks who have run into some of those challenging times I mentioned above. Using my experience in the ophthalmology practice I run is a good example. When the LASIK craze hit in 2000/2001, everybody hopped on, and it was really hot — until it wasn’t. We still offer laser eye surgery, but we found that our customers’ biggest need on the other side of the LASIK fad was plain ol’ eye care.

In the software industry, neglecting discipline might look like spending all your team’s time building something brand new that’s fun for your developers when your customers really need you to improve a handful of bugs in your existing product. There are, of course, times when it’s appropriate to bring something new to market. But selling what people want to buy is a whole lot easier than trying to force people to buy a fun, yet profitless widget you’ve created.

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  1. Know what your finish line is.

Another way to say this is: Remember what you set out to do. When you start out, be sure to write down your goals. That way, you can reflect on what you initially planned for vs. where you are today. As an example, you might have said you were aiming to bring home a certain amount of revenue each year. Five years later, you may have surpassed that revenue goal, but you’re overworked. Don’t lose sight of the fact that at one point, you were happy with that initial revenue goal.

Of course, there are always things you can do to grow and evolve and improve. But it’s important to remember that sometimes, “Enough is enough.”

Your Freedom Is the Reward

When you make the decision to become an entrepreneur, you’re opening yourself up to difficulties you may not even see coming. But circling back to the first point on my list, it’s a decision you’ve made for some reason — keep that reason in mind. The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve seen find significant reward in the freedom that entrepreneurship brings. Sure, the money can be great, too. But your first motivator should be that you’re free to do as you choose. Free to make decisions as you choose, solve problems as you choose, make your schedule as you choose, take clients as you choose. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day, but always remember that your future is in your control.

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