I was 16 years old when I decided I was going to be an entrepreneur. Up to that point, my first real job was selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door. Mind you, these were the mid-90s: there was no Internet (yet) and no easy way to learn stuff. You had to learn on the go, as you experienced things.
Humility, accepting the rejection, and taking feedback objectively (not personally) were the major lessons I learned back then that helped me throughout my career that has been going on for more than 20 years now. Once you experience a barrage of no’s and door slams, you get a firm sense of reality.
Today, it’s different.
Literally, everything is online. You’re just a few clicks or taps away from the information you need but don’t have. I find this significantly boosts confidence because there’s always someone or something (e.g. Google) you can turn to. When I was starting, I needed to meet someone locally who could show me the ins and outs. It’s easier to be an entrepreneur today, and that’s good because we entrepreneurs are the bunch who continues to drive change with innovation, both in how we work and live.
Still, there is also a huge downside to this interconnectivity. Those rejections were necessary for me to grasp a healthy perspective and learn how to navigate and persist when hearing “no”. It’s not that entrepreneurs don’t get rejected constantly nowadays, but some of the old school hustling is gone. The online ease can create illusions.
Most aspiring entrepreneurs fall into the trap of achieving hero status. They take this line of work for granted because that is what’s “advertised” with guys like Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, and alike. Willingly or not, they embody the hero culture that projects a distorted image of entrepreneurship, and it’s not helping. Granted, sometimes we have to perform heroic acts, especially early founders, but heroics can only get you so far. I’d even go so far as to say that there’s a thin line between heroics and failure that many cross without even knowing until it’s too late.
So, I’ve contacted a number of entrepreneurs and business gurus I know, admire, and respect for their take on that one piece of advice they’d give their 18-year-old self/entrepreneurs just starting out. Here’s what they had to say.
Words to live by
I’ll start with a guy who is one of the faces of serial entrepreneurship: Neil Patel. As one of the most influential entrepreneurs of our time, he’s the person you listen to unequivocally. Neil was one of the latest guests on the Real Life Superpowers podcast I’m co-hosting and he was kind enough to indulge me on that one thing that’s seemingly more important than the rest.
“I know it sounds silly but – focus. If I could say one thing to my teenage self, that’s the one.
If back then I had the focus I have now, I know my companies would be four or five times bigger. People take focus for granted and I think that’s a big mistake. The reality is that if you take one thing and do it extremely well for a long time in a big enough market – you’ll build a huge business.
Consequently, go for the big TAMs – total addressable markets. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put – a small market is a small market. What I’ve learned over the years is that it takes almost the same amount of effort to build a business in a small market and build a business in a big market. So, you might as well go after the one with the big TAM.”
Regardless of how small a market is, it’s really hard to own the majority share of it, let alone all of it. It’s much easier to own a small share of a big market and have something tangible on your hands.
As one of Israel’s foremost authorities on the high-tech industry and one of the world’s top tech bloggers, Hillel Fuld provides strategic guidance for startup companies and entrepreneurs to go global with their local technology. Israel’s ‘Mr. Tech’, as affectionately called by a local publication, went straight for the harsh truth:
“The most important thing a teenage entrepreneur needs to know is that entrepreneurship is hard. You only read about the success stories and not the failures. And even the success stories, you never read what went into them and all the hard work.
Before moving forward with your idea, you have to do market research. Then you need to get users. Then those users need to come back and keep coming back. Then you need to have hundreds of investor meetings before one says yes. And that’s just the beginning.
Entrepreneurship is hard.”
The hardships in entrepreneurship are rarely talked about. You take a mental and physical beating throughout the journey because this is a lifestyle, not a job. It demands a lot but it also provides a lot. You have to have a really thick skin to endure all the stress and unpredictability that comes with it. Many people don’t have what it takes but find out the truth about themselves too late.
Here’s another influencer I interviewed for my podcast recently – Eric Siu. He hosts the Marketing School podcast with Neil ☝️ and is an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor with a great story about his success with SingleGrain (he bought the company for $2!). The story made a lasting impression on me then so I asked him for his bit of wisdom and this is what he said:
“Having a long term view and being patient has been the most important thing for me. Bill Gates once said that people overestimate what they can do in a year but underestimate what they can do in a decade.
Eric preaches about one of the most important virtues in business, not just entrepreneurship. Patience is how we maintain control of ourselves during our ups and downs and understand that success isn’t achieved overnight.
Yam Regev, co-founder of Zest and one of the leading CMO authorities, is a successful founder who has amazing perceptions about leadership from an emotional angle – ones I’m always happy to read. His big notion is that the best way to become an entrepreneur is to actually learn from people who are better than you (entrepreneur or not) in some way.
“Meet at least two people that you define as 10x what you are. They can be a 10x better business person than you, they can be a 10x better father or mother than you according to your measurements, they can be extravagant entrepreneurs, or just someone who did something that you’d wish for yourself.
Learning from others is the best way to improve yourself and tighten up what you strive to be. The added value here is that you’ll manage to build personal connections that can be used now or at any time. This is intellectual property you are earning here.
Remember that what worked for them will 100% not work for you, though. Adjust what they say to your personal, professional, and business biologies. This is not mathematics.
The worst advice I got is to listen to other people’s success stories and try to implement them as they are.”
As usual, spot-on insights from Yam in the sense that in many cases, there is really no substitute for reading or hearing firsthand from those who’ve accomplished things you aspire to. In this line of work, you want to hear directly from people who have been in the entrepreneurial trenches to augment whatever you know or have been taught so far.
Asaf Paz, fellow entrepreneur and founder, founded his first company WEBSEM when he was 21 years old. Some 15 years later and two exits later, he’s in charge of building, training, and leading teams at Google with a focus on business growth, engagement, and client satisfaction. There’s one particularly important thing for Asaf:
“Develop a growth mindset. You will face many challenges and difficulties along the way, the key is to see them as learning opportunities.”
It’s a great point that is fairly underrepresented in the broader entrepreneurship scheme. Successful people understand they can get smarter through hard work, effective strategizing, and help from others when needed. When they believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger, which leads to higher achievement. Simple, right?
Investor, tech entrepreneur, and an advisory board member in a number of startups, Eran Savir shares a similar sentiment, in that staying hungry should be a default mode for entrepreneurs. As someone who has extensive hands-on experience, he knows what traits provide an edge in an ever-changing market.
“I think that keys to success are curiosity and perseverance. Successful entrepreneurs constantly look for more information, are eager to learn new things and will continue pushing forward even when all the dream-killers around them highlight the difficulties.
Surround yourself with smart, curious and optimistic people, dream big and work hard.”
In other words, trying new things and ongoing education are an entrepreneur’s responsibility – an imperative rather than an option.
Moving on to Assaf Ben-David, a business and legal mentor to startups worldwide, and a person who helps entrepreneurs and early stage startups fulfill their dreams and reach their goals. He’s pretty big on one thing:
“Validation, validation, validation!
I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars, on ideas that just won’t work. So if I could only give one piece of advice to entrepreneurs working on an early-stage startup, it would be this: don’t spend a cent on anything else other than validating your idea first!
Validation is the process of checking your assumptions and seeing if:
- there is a need for your startup
- people will pay for it
- the projected income justifies dedicating your time and money (remember, you’ll be working on this for 2-3 years).
But wait, how do I validate my idea? Simply put, you create a proof of concept (POC) or Minimum Viable Product (MVP). What this means is you create the most basic version of your product/service and try to sell it.
If it’s a product, you can even try to sell it before it actually exists and before you even have one physical product in hand. If it’s a service, you can create a website that looks like it works and provides the service but in actual fact, behind the scenes things are being done manually. The main point is that you check the above issues mentioned without actually building the full version of the service/product.
The validation will give you invaluable information that will help you decide if you want to continue or not, and the information gained will be of immense help when talking to potential investors and when working on the final version of your product.”
Simply put, startup idea validation is critical to startup success – it won’t eliminate all of the problems but it will certainly minimize the risks you take.
Itamar Benedy, co-founder and CEO at Anzu.io where he is transforming the advertising industry from the ground up, is a successful founder who was on Forbes Israel’s first-ever ‘30 Under 30′ list. For him, strong belief in what you are doing is vital.
“From my experience, the people who make it as entrepreneurs are those who have a strong conviction in their idea. Sure, you need to verify that you have a business model but, once you do, it’s about truly believing you can succeed.
First, you need to convince yourself, not investors or team members, that will allow you to ignore all the inevitable no’s and naysayers you’ll encounter along the way and stay driven toward your goal.”
There will be struggles and challenges along the way. Without conviction, it doesn’t take much for obstacles to turn into permanent barriers to success.
For Marc Green, understanding the fundamental concept of entrepreneurship is priority #1. Marc has more than two decades of experience (sales, in particular) in the world of startups and technology both as an investor and as a founder.
“First, understand what it means to be an entrepreneur.
In the broadest sense, entrepreneurship is setting a worthwhile goal (fulfilling a market need, making a change in a market) and then following a course of action (often experiments) to achieve it. Expect your path to be full of small failures (i.e. learnings) enabling you to course-correct. Sometimes they can be big failures forcing you to change your goal. That is part of the process and what gives you valuable experience.
Other points I haven’t detailed but are worth mentioning is to question everything, take risks, be patient, see things through, and lastly – don’t get overwhelmed by information.“
Next up is Tom Nadav, a founder and CEO at Infinite, whom I see as a rising star in the Israeli entrepreneurship scene. He founded the company to build upon his sales experience in the hi-tech industry and as a fairly fresh founder, he offers an interesting perspective.
“One of the important lessons I have learned in the business world is the ability to be flexible mentally but at the same time, be focused on your targets and goals.
When you are independent, you are not responsible for only one job, you wear several hats at once. You are the marketing manager, sales manager, operations manager, and service manager.
So one of the important topics I have learned is the ability to know how to manage my time correctly. I write daily tasks for myself every day so I don’t go to bed at night if I have not finished them. At the same time, I constantly need to be creative and know how to think of new ideas.
Another important topic to invest in is a sales strategy that includes a clear plan on how to reach the set goals and objectives. In the end, you may have the most amazing product/service there is, but if you fail to sell it, your venture will not succeed. That is why it is very important to invest in this topic as early as possible in the business so that you know who your target audience is, how to address it, what the objections and challenges are that are expected of you, and many other issues that will happen along the way.”
I’m one of those people who believe time management is a skill as I am all about maximizing the output while minimizing the time spent. It’s one of the best ways to prevent/deal with the entrepreneurial pressure and make sure you lead a healthier life and more productive business.
Last but certainly not least is Amir Zwickel, the co-founder & chief real estate officer at SHOWFIELDS. Amir is a serial entrepreneur whose speciality is real estate development where he’s seen frequent success with numerous hospitality businesses in Israel. Here’s what he had to say:
“I think something I understood in the last few years is the importance of framing. This is art that every entrepreneur needs to master. Understanding that the person who sets the framing is the one who could optimize for the results they are aiming for, in any conversation and relationship, is key to success.
The other thing I’d say is that it’s really important to celebrate small wins along the way. Otherwise you’d just wake up one day, look back, and realize that you were pushing and pushing to get to a certain place, but the actual path you took was really the most exciting thing. So it’s really important to enjoy and celebrate along the way (although it’s sometimes challenging when you’re on a startup roller coaster).”
What Amir says is scientifically proven. Any achievement, regardless how small, triggers the reward circuitry of our brains. Chemicals like dopamine are released that give us a feeling of achievement and pride. Also, they “push” us to move forward to what triggered their release in the first place, which is a great motivational hack.
My advice: don’t fall in love with the potential, fall in love with doing the business
The chances that you are going to succeed in your first few ventures are not good. That’s why you have to choose something you’re passionate about. Forget about how big you are as a partner and how much control you have because those are the very things that will drive you, motivate you to learn more and get better. Such an approach will do wonders for your confidence (which is hugely important when you’re young) and will teach you how to be a team player.
If you start from a comfortable spot, meaning doing something you know rather than something you love, you get more control, more ownership, and the potential is high. But – you’re asking for far more responsibility than you have experience. Not only is that a poor ratio for a success formula, but you won’t evolve and become a better entrepreneur. Maybe in the short term you’ll win but long-term, there’s almost no chance you will become a 2.0 version of your entrepreneurial self.
Have no regrets
And there you have it. I sometimes wonder what I would do differently if I could restart my entrepreneurial career.
To be honest – I’m not sure I would change much.
Not saying I had a perfect run (far from it) but if I didn’t fail a lot, I’d probably be scared of failing and, I can say this with great certainty, wouldn’t amount to one-tenth of the entrepreneur and investor I am today.
I’m a ‘no regrets’ kind of guy so I let bygones be bygones.
I think that’s important because going the entrepreneurial path is a life-altering decision that many don’t stick to. There will be some bad times and failures that will leave a scar and impact you personally and professionally (or in other words: emotionally and financially). These are bound to happen and if embraced the right way (as constructive feedback to build upon), they can teach you a lot about yourself and the business environment.
This is a world full of uncertainties and obstacles but it will help you grow as an individual – if you love what you do and are resolved to see it through the end.
Otherwise, all of the gems mentioned above from those who have walked this path will be for naught.