Starting your own company sounds like a wonderful idea and owning your own business sounds romantic. Who doesn’t want to be their own boss, answering to no one? There’s something liberating about charting your own course and being the master of your destiny. Having started two businesses, I can tell you it’s wonderful. Romantic? That might be an idealized view of reality.
Career Ownership at the Highest Level
The foundation of every noteworthy career is personal accountability. Developing an impressive career — the kind deep down everyone wants — requires taking ownership of it. Simply put, it’s a responsibility that cannot be pawned off on others. And, in my opinion, there’s no greater way to assume control of your life of employment than by becoming an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship is career ownership at the highest level. It’s like putting “a tiger in your [career] tank,” to borrow from the old Esso (now ExxonMobil) slogan. Are you asking yourself, Why am I doing all this to make them money when I can be making money for myself? Do you feel your job is keeping you from something else you are meant to do? If you feel you are busting at the seams at your current place of employment, then maybe you should venture out and build your own business. Why not? History is replete with a parade of people who had the crazy idea of starting a business.
If you have a dream, why not make it happen!
A Dose of Reality
But dreams, by definition are “a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality,” and if you truly want to be an entrepreneur you need to keep it real: starting a business is no walk in the park. Every successful entrepreneur has faced challenges, obstacles, and a variety of difficulties that needed to be worked through, overcome, solved, and sometimes ignored. They had to be willing to start from scratch, begin at the bottom, be comfortable with failure, work a second job until the dream materializes, and work their ass off.
There is no magic formula, no waving of a wand, no silver bullet. It’s a matter of starting somewhere and having the guts — guts to try, guts to go all out, guts to put your heart and soul on the line for something. To make it through all you have to deal with, you’ll need a “go for it” attitude, come what may.
What You Will Need to Win: Five Keys to a Successful Startup
There are five factors that help spawn successful startups (listed in no order of importance):
1. A Bit of Luck: Miguel Cervantes’s advice in Don Quixote is spot on: “When good luck comes along, open the door and let it in.” While you’re busy working your tail off trying to get your business off the ground, don’t become unmindful of good fortune that may come your way. After my business partner and I left the company we worked for, they were so mad that they decided to call all our clients to tell them we started our own firm. Curious, those clients called us to learn more. In essence, our old firm served as a marketing company, letting the marketplace know we were open for business.
Seeing we were precluded from calling our old clients directly due to a non-solicitation agreement, it was quite fortuitous when we received those calls. We seized the opportunity and told them how we could be a viable resource provider for them as they encountered staffing challenges.
2. Knowing When to Pick a Fight: It’s important to size up your competition. Know who you are up against. Then pick a competitor you want to take down. Be the devil to the angel in your industry. Find your Goliath and be David.
For my business partner and me, it was our former employer. That said, we were realistic about how much fight we could muster to best them. They were a large multinational company with tons of resources at their disposal. So, we made it our goal to be a pebble in their shoe. We fought hard to make companies in our market know we were a viable option to consider when they needed help. If our old firm was not on their game, we were ready to pounce. We were the wolf forever at the door.
3. Build a Better Mousetrap: Whether a product or a service, make sure it’s an improvement over that of your competitors. My business partner and I decided we could offer the same service as our former employer, only better, by having a more agile, nimble business model. They were a publicly traded company with Wall Street to answer to and specific gross margins to hit. Our firm was able to wheel and deal and be flexible however we chose. We hoped our clients would benefit from our adaptability and suffer from our former employer’s rigidity.
4. An Appreciation for Relationships: Engaging in business requires engaging with people. Good relationships, it is said, make for a full life. The same is true in business. Err in this regard to the detriment of your firm.
I once reported to someone who refused to give a discount to a client who was spending millions of dollars on our services. In response, the client started to phase out our services and then we never saw business from him again. Good fortune knocked on the door of a more flexible (and grateful) competitor.
5. The Right Hiring Philosophy: You’ll need people to help you build your company. When you hire, avoid taking a homogenized approach. In other words, don’t hire the same type of person over and over again. Hire as if you are putting together pieces of a puzzle. Find candidates that bring different skills, outlooks, and approaches to the table. Create a team of diverse people, who, when working as one, are a strong backbone for your company and a formidable competitor to the company you choose to pick a fight with.
The SuN Takeaway
Starting a business isn’t for everyone, but if you determine it’s something you truly believe in, refer to these five keys and you’ll have good shot at success.