Whether if you are thinking of becoming an entrepreneur or you are already one, here are 6 lessons I learned that can be valuable for your entrepreneurship journey.
- Expect rejection: It doesn’t matter how clear is your vision (for you), expect rejection. You see a picture of how your company will looks in the future (not just numbers in an excel file). The rest of the people won’t have that picture. Don’t blame them for rejecting you or your project. Instead, practice your story as many times as necessary to help other people see what you are seeing.
- Being open to feedback doesn’t mean you have to change your mind all the time: Being open to feedback is a very important aspect of any entrepreneur, but remember that most people won’t get the full picture of what you are pursuing, so even when they are there just to help you, that doesn’t mean that their feedback is useful. Good use of a mentorship session is listening carefully to the feedback, and once is finished don’t rush to answer. Make as many questions as necessary to fully understand if you properly understood the recommendation. Then take notes and read the notes so the mentor can hear them. Then come back home and evaluate the notes carefully before taking any action.
- Keep the focus: Define a target so big that you don’t miss it while you are chasing it. The survival instinct could take you to do things out of your vision for the sake of paying the bills. You can do things that are not in your scope if that’s completely necessary but it has to be clear for you and your team that that is out of your scope (just an outlying activity). Keeping focus is what will make your company something different and unique. In my case with Intellignos, the vision was to help clients become more competitive through the use of data in new and creative ways. Since day one, clients tried to convince us to provide media services as well. If we would do that, we would be another digital boutique agency like the other thousand you can find out there. We kept on our track and it repaid. When Havas approached us with the interest of acquiring the company, it was because they were looking for our broadly developed expertise.
- Use every dollar as the last one: I started Intellignos without capital, so I had no option but to be very careful on how I was investing the company revenues. But even when I was very careful we had several financial challenges (crisis!) that left me three main learnings:
- In professional services, you are always three months away from bankruptcy. Two or three unfortunate situations that occur together and it’s over, and the only thing that might save you, in that case, is the money you haven’t spend. You will remember those vacations that you “shouldn’t take”, the improvements to your office, etc. Keep away from unnecessary stuff. Customer centricity in most cases doesn’t require spending money but being creative, keep focused on that.
- Paying salaries will wake you up at night: It doesn’t matter how big your company is, if you are growing fast you will always need capital, much capital. It doesn’t matter how good your company is doing economically you will be, more often than not, struggling financially. And of course, one of your main concerns will be having the money to pay salaries. I thought this was something that just happened to small startups (like was mine at the beginning), but it doesn’t. This happens at all levels. Again, save your cash, it will improve your sleeping quality more than Purple Mattress, and believe me, you will need to sleep well.
- Money comes later and is spent earlier than expected: It doesn’t matter how solid your financial plan is, you will need capital quicker than you think. So use all the strategies you can to accelerate the inbound cash flow. Offer your clients discounts for upfront payment, work on a business model that drives inbound cash as quickly as possible, work with your clients openly in options that generate benefits for both sides. Remember, when the cash need arises is normally too late to take action. Cash will broaden your options.
- There is more to worry about your poor customer-centricity than from your competition: Keep an eye on your competition and your heart on your clients. In my experience, most of our success came from focusing and adapting to our client’s needs than from having a better speech or pricing than our competition.
- Resilience wins: Things will get worse before they get better so evaluate things in a systemic (and not isolated) way. The most successful companies are not the ones that committed no errors but the ones that we’re able to commit the errors and learn from them. I love Peter Senge’s quote “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition”. Success and failure are not places you arrive at the end of a journey but rather stages you will have to face while chasing your dreams. Never give up. If you are too negative about the future of your company, go to sleep, tomorrow will be another day.