Let’s jump straight into it.
Number One: It is your newest family member.
A startup is like a child in a multitude of ways. It will wake you up early in the morning. It can stop you from sleeping in the night. Sometimes, you’ll have 5 AM calls to make and sometimes your metaphorical child will get sick and you’ll have to spend the night taking care of it to make sure it gets well. It will be nice to you at times…that doesn’t mean its dirty nappies don’t stink.
Number Two: It is neither easy nor hard.
Obviously, the difficulty significantly depends on the nature of the business and the market’s barriers to entry, but it’s often neither as easy nor as hard as the majority of people make it seem. It takes a solid product/service and good marketing and/or sales skills to get people to shell out money to buy what you’re offering. But, there are a lot of people out there, and there are a lot of things that you can offer. Even if only 0.5% of potential customers end up buying your product/service, that is still a lot of customers. This is reflected by the statistic provided by the Small Business Association (SBA) which states that 50% of new businesses fail in the first five years. Not the majority of businesses succeed. Not the majority of businesses fail.
Number Three: Attention is crucial.
Fact: If you have a great product that nobody knows about, you’ll make a total of zero dollars in sales. Rock House Sliders is a restaurant based in Kuwait that offers (in my opinion) impeccable sliders. The food is of great quality and their customer service is top-notch. Not to mention, their personality as a brand and their sense of humour is out of this world. This restaurant is perfect. But they are failing miserably, and the only reason is they don’t have enough attention. In a mall, Rock House Sliders is right next to McDonald’s. McDonald’s has an enormous number of customers whenever I show up while I’m the only one ordering from Rock House Sliders. Why? Because nobody has a clue what Rock House Sliders is and nobody takes risks when it comes to food. The quality offered by Rock House Sliders is objectively much better than that offered by McDonald’s. But because nobody knows that, they are failing miserably. Attention is crucial. Let’s move on from burgers and sliders to Instagram. According to Instagram themselves, 70% of posts go unseen. Let that sink in for a moment. It doesn’t matter how great your product or service is if you don’t have enough attention. Without attention, a business can’t function.
Number Four: It is neither all about money nor all about passion.
The majority of entrepreneurs give up because their brand new businesses aren’t bringing them the cash they thought those businesses would. If the only thing you care about is numbers, whether that is in the form of money, followers, etc., there’s a good chance you’ll give up if you don’t achieve the numbers you wanted to achieve. On the other hand, it can’t be all about passion either. Over the past few years, thousands of students have graduated with a degree in Lesbian Dance Theory. Perhaps some of them opted to get such a degree because they couldn’t be bothered with chemistry or economics. But the majority of them are somehow passionate about Lesbian Dance. Those thousands of graduates were utterly upset when they realised they wouldn’t get employed with those degrees. Quite frankly, there isn’t a lot of demand for Lesbian Dance Theory graduates. You can be passionate about anything but if you want to build a successful business, there are other things you need to put into consideration. Money isn’t the only thing and neither is passion.
Number Five: It will not necessarily make you a millionaire.
According to the US Census Bureau, only 7% of businesses make $1m or more per year and only 2% of business owners bring home $200k or more per year. This percentage sounds ridiculously small considering that when people hear the word entrepreneur or the words business owner, they imagine a person in a suit, flying in a private jet while drinking fine wine. The truth is, it is not all roses. Most businesses take many months, if not years, to break-even. In the book Start With Why, Simon Sinek provides valuable insight into what’s really going on here. Here’s what he says: in order to increase sales, businesses will often lower their prices (which reduces their profits) and eventually, customers will get used to paying low prices and when that happens, it is very challenging to get them to pay higher prices, and so in order to maintain sales, businesses will push prices lower and lower which further reduces profits which means they have to sell more to remain profitable. And how do you sell more? Lower prices. It’s a downward spiral.
Number Six: It will not solve all of your problems.
“If only I got this, I’ll be happy…”, “if only that happened, I’ll be happy…”. It is very human to think in that way. We tend to believe that if we got ‘x’ or if ‘y’ happened, we’ll be happy and complete. The truth is, it doesn’t work that way. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of human motivation in the form of a hierarchy. At the very bottom of the pyramid, you’ve got your physiological needs (water, food, shelter, etc.) and right on top of that, you’ve got safety, and this is as far as money can get you because above safety is love which money can’t buy. Money can buy sex, not love. Money can buy medicine, not health. Money only gets you to level two on this hierarchy while true happiness is achieved at level five. Don’t get me wrong, money doesn’t buy happiness but neither does the lack of it. Money isn’t evil, it’s just not enough to produce happiness.
Number Seven: Vague advice is fake advice (at best).
I don’t know about you but when I started my first business in 2016, I got a ton of vague, meaningless, potentially lethal advice. I was told by some people to lower prices to increase sales. I was told by others to raise prices to give the impression of a high-quality product. All of that advice is extremely vague as the adviser didn’t have enough context. Every business is different and there’s not a single piece of advice that will work for each and every single business. Learn to spot vague advice and learn to throw it right out of the window if it isn’t based on context and previous relevant experience. Acting on one bad piece of advice can render a business dead.
Number Eight: Do not act on advice taken from 9-to-5 employees.
This links nicely to my last point but takes a different approach that will perhaps save you a lot of headaches. If you want to drive a Ferrari, why would you take advice from Toyota drivers? Not to pick on Toyota drivers or anything; it’s just a metaphor. If you want to be a pilot, would you take technical career advice from a chef? Nope. Pay attention to who you’re listening to. If you listen to 9-to-5 employees, you’ll end up one. The path you’re picking is completely different.
Number Nine: 100-hour work weeks are bad, and so are 4-hour work weeks.
Back in 2016, I thought the more hours the better. I sat in the back of the class working on financial plans and business strategies, only to go back home, send emails, make phone calls, review documents and work on new products. I put in 100 hours of work every single week. It felt like I was running in place most of the time. By 2017, I realised that this is inefficient so I decided to delegate and outsource a lot. I thought spending only 4 hours a week working on business strategy and tracking progress is the most efficient way of tackling things. I was wrong, again. 100-hour work weeks are ineffective (unless your name is Elon Musk) and so are 4-hour work weeks. 40-hour work weeks are popular for a good reason: they work. They work for employees and entrepreneurs. Don’t hesitate to push it up to 60 hours a week, but go beyond that and your efficiency is likely to take a hit.
Number Ten: The hate is real.
Fact: According to Gallup, 85% of people hate their jobs, so using the prison metaphor would be suitable here. Let’s say you’re a prisoner and you manage to run away from that prison. Won’t fellow prisoners be jealous? By starting your own business, you’ve escaped the prison that 85% of people are stuck in. Get ready to receive hate from a lot of people, whether they are total strangers on the internet, close friends or family members. Many things change when you take this step. Don’t step in the kitchen if you can’t take the heat.
Bonus Point: Starting and running a business is ridiculously exciting.
When you’re in this field, you have no idea what’s going to happen today when you wake up. You have no idea who’s going to call you or how much you’re going to sell or what’s going to happen regarding operations. This air of uncertainty adds an element of excitement that isn’t found anywhere else. Sure, it can be scary sometimes. But it is a beautiful ride, so enjoy the ups and downs.
People regret the things they didn’t do much more than the things they did do. Regret is poison. Take the shot. Don’t hesitate. And when you take that shot, play big. Really big. It’s not easy anyway so you might as well play big. Playing small isn’t much easier than playing big. Give it all and work every day with a whatever-it-takes mindset and you’ll get there.
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” – Steve Jobs.
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
- The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone