Every day, millions of entrepreneurs wake up early and stay up late, determined to make their vision a reality and build the business they’ve dreamed about. They are their own marketers, their own salesforce, their own CFOs, their own heads of human resources, and their own fundraisers – all while refining their products and services, producing them and bringing them to market.
I am one of the fortunate ones who succeeded. With two decades of experience in the semiconductor industry, I found myself at a crossroads. With encouragement from my first mentor, my father, I decided to follow the entrepreneurial path and create my own firm, Guerrilla RF. I worked from home initially, as do many other startup entrepreneurs, developed a business plan and began moving forward.
In the space of 10 years, Guerrilla RF went from a home-based start-up to an associate business at a business incubator to a successful publicly traded company with a $27.72 million market cap and a 2022 annual revenue of $11.6 million.
We faced many challenges along the way and there were days when my confidence wavered. Everyone who has ever started and grown a business will be familiar with that feeling. But thus far, we have overcome whatever challenges we have faced. I didn’t do it alone and one of the most important lessons I learned was that, at least in our community, I didn’t need to.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned are about myself. You never really know what you’re capable of achieving until you’re tested. Starting a business is probably the biggest professional test an individual can face. But I’ve also learned some lessons that are universal – that will likely resonate with entrepreneurs in any field, in every region of the country.
Here are a few.
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Finding Mentors and Listening
I’ve always recognized where I needed help and was never reluctant to seek it out. As a result, I’ve had many mentors. And I paid attention. Entrepreneurs who are inflexible are eventually going to hit a wall. Learn from the experience of people who have walked your path before and both you personally and your business will benefit.
Early in my exploration of starting a business, I was introduced to Sam Funchess, CEO of Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, a small business incubator in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sam became one of my most important mentors, board member and is now part of the Guerrilla RF team. Being in a business incubator at the early stages, I never felt alone as there were always onsite support organizations available to help.
Seeking out those kinds of relationships is crucial. Mentors like the one I found in Sam Funchess can advise on everything from fundraising to business development. They can help build your network. Find people and organizations that can play that role.
Having mentors is important and seeking advice doesn’t always mean you have to take it. While it’s important to listen and learn, it’s also important to remain analytical and judicious. You need to trust your mentors, but you also need to have the self-confidence to make your own sound decisions after you have gathered enough information and advice.
Self-Confidence Helps, Ego Doesn’t
There’s a difference between self-confidence and ego. Entrepreneurs need to believe in themselves to an extent that enables them to push forward and overcome doubters and challenges. But humility is also necessary. Know what you don’t know, figure out how to gain that knowledge and find mentors or support organizations that will help. Refusing to face your own limitations and going it alone can be a recipe for failure.
Don’t quit. Learn. Grow. Get better. Being an entrepreneur and building a successful company from the ground up does not require perfection. It requires perseverance. There will be failures along the way. Entrepreneurs need to constantly adapt, and they need the drive to keep going even when business conditions are tough.
Regulating Ups and Downs
Just as perseverance is necessary to get through the challenges, it’s also important to keep things in perspective – whether you hit it out of the park or strike out. The life cycle of any business has highs and lows – and they can be extreme. Making mistakes, sometimes expensive ones, is all a part of entrepreneurship, but it’s not the mistake that’s important, it’s what’s done next. And the high of success will only last until the next challenge comes along.
Business incubators are valuable for a variety of reasons. The ecosystem around them, the people in their networks, their alumni, all can become accessible to budding entrepreneurs. In my case, the Nussbaum Center’s relationship with the community and with angel investors was incredibly helpful – ultimately connecting us with about 75% of Guerrilla RF’s first investors. We learned very early on that we would hear “no” more than “yes,” but that a “no” didn’t necessarily mean “no” forever. And it didn’t necessarily mean the end of that conversation. Everyone you talk to has their own network of contacts and is a potential source of new introductions.
Entrepreneurship is not a road that should be taken alone. The chances of success are higher when there’s an ecosystem of support. Our region has many such resources, as do many other regions around the country. Entrepreneurs would be wise to utilize them.