Your road to success will be unique, but there are certain common themes that everyone must overcome to truly reach their business potential.
I recently asked eight entrepreneurial rock stars to lend some insights into their secret sauce for success. Think of this advice as the last tweets, the final epitaph on their tombstones and their legacies – it’s the single most important slice of wisdom they could leave behind for you to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps.
1. Do what you love.
“One of the most important decisions you will make in your life is the career path you choose. Research shows you don’t need a six-figure salary to be happy, and you’re going to spend half your waking hours working, so make sure you enjoy your job or you might as well be half dead. The hard part isn’t finding things you enjoy doing – it’s figuring out how to make a living doing what you enjoy most. The key is to have as many experiences as possible – try as many things as you can – so you maximize your chances of discovering a supremely fulfilling career.
“I made a tremendous number of mistakes in my career because I didn’t have enough mentors. Think of business like a game – you can try to figure everything out yourself, or you can play with people who have already beaten the game who can help you beat it much faster. This is the power of surrounding yourself with experienced mentors and not being afraid to ask for help.” – Emerson Sparz, CEO at Spartz
2. Find something to obsess over.
“I think there are two things you need to figure out: what truly motivates you and choose something that you can be completely obsessed about. Once you’ve pinpointed those two things, you’ll become an obsessively, motivated, force of nature where it will be hard for you to let yourself down. Also, assume you were more lucky than skillful, for two reasons: It will keep you humble and more open minded to a better way of doing things and you won’t take for granted the epic, roller-coaster journey you’re currently on.” – Suhail Doshi, founder and CEO of Mixpanel
3. Don’t wait, just start.
“Just go ahead and do it! When we started FlightCar, we spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to launch and conducted extensive market research trying to get it right. In the end, it turns out we learned a lot more by launching with our minimum viable product and taking lessons from our customer feedback. The easiest and best way to understand what your customers want is to simply ask them what they want – and use their feedback to create it. The bottom line is that you need customers or you don’t have a business!” – Rujul Zaparde, CEO and co-founder of FlightCar
4. Build a team that feels like a tribe.
“I gain the most satisfaction from walking into the office every morning and seeing such intelligent, diversely talented people coming together around a shared goal. It’s that feeling of ‘tribal togetherness,’ of 'us against the world’ that makes it all so rewarding. Building a startup, at its best, should feel like being a part of a high-performing sports team, or an elite military unit – where you would gladly sacrifice for the good of the organization. Entrepreneurs should never lose site of the fact that achieving a true tribal community is an end in itself.” – Jordan Fliegel, founder of CoachUp
5. Scale as quickly as possible.
“Speed is everything with a startup and time is not your friend. Work tirelessly in the beginning to come up with a customer acquisition model that is repeatable and scalable. At MyTime, our goal is to become the top online destination for booking appointments with local businesses in the world. Rather than wait for every local business to sign up, we built a thin profile for our top 2 million potential customers. This drove millions of consumer visitors through SEO. We then invited the businesses to claim their profile since hundreds of visitors (e.g., potential clients) were already coming to their pages! This is a great example of getting the flywheel going and getting to scale quickly.” – Ethan Anderson, founder and CEO of MyTime
6. Lead with a smile.
“You can accomplish infinitely more with a smile on your face than you can with a frown. We all have a tendency to think that people who seem super-stressed and ultra-serious are the most successful. In my experience, almost the exact opposite is true. Great leaders inspire others to make them even greater. You can inspire with fear and anger, but your tower of power is really just a house of cards. While a leader cannot always be popular, keeping things in perspective and lightening up on a regular basis makes you more approachable – a 21st century leader, if you will. When you need to get serious, the change in your demeanor will be a great unspoken cue to your team that it’s time to buckle down. But, try to smile a lot – it makes you feel better and makes people want to be around you more.” – Scott Tannen, co-founder and CEO of Boll & Branch
7. You’re only as strong as your team.
“Play to your strengths and know your weaknesses. You are only as strong as the team you build. At the early stages of a company, every person moves the needle in a huge way and impacts the team dynamic even more. Surrounding yourself with the right people who not only believe in your vision, but whom you can learn from is crucial. When it comes to your team, and this includes everyone from your employees to co-founders to investors, you aren’t always going to make the right decisions, but the important thing is to react quickly and learn from your mistakes. One wrong employee or advisor not only wastes time but also opportunity.” – Jess Levin, founder and CEO of Carats & Cake
8. Don’t play it safe.
“Evaluate opportunity cost. The best business decisions are hardly ever the safest ones. In fact, sometimes they require forgoing profits in one area to accelerate growth elsewhere. Critically evaluate the opportunity cost of everything you do. I was on track to become a doctor. While it was a safe and stable career path, I knew it wasn’t the only option. I wanted to build something that was bigger than me. As much as I admire what doctors do, I knew I would be happier and more successful as an entrepreneur.
“Six months after I introduced the ecommerce site, I closed down the flagship retail store – even though it was profitable. I was confident that the Internet would revolutionize commerce. Immediately afterwards, I reallocated the resources and focused exclusively on perfecting the customer experience online. Back then, that was heresy. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. To rapidly accelerate your success, you have to be willing to sacrifice stability and short-term gain in order to invest in substantial long-term growth.” – Firas Kittaneh, co-founder and CEO of One Mall Group