Lessons Learned

In no particular order:

1. Money changes things

It changes time-frames, give you a longer time to build momentum, grow. It, unfortunately, may also make you lazy. Especially if there is no need to pay it back. Equity investments can do that; make you feel like it is a gift. That plan you had that got you the money is one thing. Executing is a whole different kettle of fish

It’s a hard to fathom, sitting on the outside, but investment money has a different impact on the entrepreneur from getting paid for work done.

Broke entrepreneurs and businesses operate in a very difficult space and often sacrifice long term gains for short term relief.  Business is a lot easier when you have money than when you don’t.

2. Know thyself

….and I do not mean this in a Biblical way.

Know what you are working for. Understand your motivations for being in the business. One of my mentors surprised me when she told me she was stuck owning in a business she didn’t like. She started to take advantage of an opportunity because she was broke, and got caught up in the whirlwind that was growth. 7 years later, when she’d grown the business enough to afford some time off, she realized she didn’t like it. She sold it shortly afterwards.

Have a set of principle that you live by. Solid principles. Principles you believe in, not picked off a plaque in an office lobby.  The help you make decisions.

Knowing yourself also helps you put together a great team. Finding people to help you fill the gaps where you are short.

You may be lucky and work in a industry with ready market and a simple business models, or you may find yourself in an industry where no-one knows what the hell is going on and are busy trying to figure it out as they barrel along at a thousand miles an hour. Some people love the simplicity of the former, some thrive in the madding insanity of the latter. Switch them and you have a disaster.

3. Know thy partner

Again…put the biblical definitions away.

Everyone that contributes to your business expects something in return; tangible or intangible. Your VC expects financial returns, your impact investor wants to see the lives your are changing. Your employees expect a regular paycheck, and a great place to work. Your supplier, speedy payment. Your client, A+ work. Understanding what each one expects right from the get go avoids problem further down the line. Trust me, I would know 🙂

4. Follow the right numbers

1 million pageviews? Niiice. 2.5Million….even better. Revenues? Er…

Mbwana Alliy once blasted me for a tongue-in-cheek comment that 23,000 people had 46,000 eyeballs when talking about pesatalk readership, and gave me an award for the best vanity number of all time. He had a point. Start-ups in tech have all sorts of metrics that mean nothing when it comes to revenues: users, downloads, visitors, pageviews. Often, some of these metrics are drawn from markets in which they do translate to revenue. If they are to serve as your metrics, what relationship do they have with revenues?

The ultimate role of a business is to make money, preferably by solving problems. Revenues are important. Profitability more so. It may take you 9 years to get profitable like it did Nation Newspapers, or 8 years like Amazon.com, but there should be a clear path to that.

5. Build a great team

This is the most important thing you will ever do as an entrepreneur.

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, says that the CEOs role is not to be the biggest plant in the greenhouse. Rather, it is to be the greenhouse. CEO being a Chief Enabling Officer. Your role as CEO is simple, get the right people in place and everything else pretty much follows. They will help you find the resources you require, help respond to the market, build the business with you. Get commitment, not compliance.

6.Cover Your Ass

A good lawyer is hard to define, even harder to find, but get one. You want someone smarter than you. Not too costly; most start-ups can barely afford their own staff. Committed to your vision – they’ll fight your battles passionately. Picking a lawyer should have the same weight as picking a co-partner or key member of staff. Spend some time. When you find a good one, negotiate their fees. Don’t be scared to ask for what you can afford, and don’t pick your cousin who sells iPhones between land deals because he is cheap.  They should be your advisors and part of your team of unsung heroes Unfortunately, lawyers are often relegated to the sidelines; tweaking generic contracts and incorporating companies. Their field is obtuse and confusing and they like it that way.

Write/type everything down. When you have a face to face meeting or phone conversation that has any agreements arrived at, jot down a quick email and send it through for confirmation. You’ll be surprised how easily people will turn face, or how differently people interpret things.

7. Be prepared to pay the cost to be the boss

A common reason people give for going into business is because they want ‘to be their own bosses” This could not be further from the truth. When you become an entrepreneur, you no longer have one boss; you have several. Your customers, your suppliers, your  employees, the taxman, the government, your bankers all want something from you. The buck stops with you. If your accountant misfiles your tax returns, you are liable.

This situation has become even worse today as social media and self publishing tools proliferate. Anyone can say anything about you or your company and managing your reputation becomes a full time role.

Entrepreneurship is not easy. It’s consists of breaking out of your comfort zone with a single minded focus, every singe day. It often alienates your close friends and family. Remember though,

Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”  Anonymous