Because of my work as an entrepreneur, teacher, mentor and now director of Wayra, I have encountered hundreds of entrepreneurs seeking the magic formula for success. While there is no formula that works for everyone, there are a number of tips that I think I can give to avoid (or at least mitigate) the typical mistakes entrepreneurs make, especially during their first steps. That is why I have compiled the following list that I hope you find interesting:
Embark on something you like. The entrepreneurial path is not easy. In fact, those of us who are experienced in this can safely say that is the most difficult of all. If you’re going to start a business, do it in an area you enjoy and do work you’re passionate about (we can’t all be CEOs or General Managers). That way, when the blows start falling (and believe me they will) and you have to work many more hours than others, at least you will do it willingly and it will be pleasant.
Focus. The popular saying is very clear: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” I’ve met dozens of entrepreneurs who think they can handle 2 or 3 projects simultaneously and in the end are successful at none. I recommend that you focus on one and save your other ideas for later. Of course you can change what you’re doing as you go. What you can´t do is everything at the same time, especially when you’re new to all this.
Look to create something important, not money. Most modern entrepreneurs look to generate money fast, which leads to attracting the wrong kind of investors and employees and the company usually perishes prematurely. The idea is that the company must make sense and preferably change (improve) the lives of the people it touches. If this happens, the money will follow.
Reach out to your potential market fast. As good as your idea may be, it is best to test it as early as you can. That is, look for feedback from your potential customers even before your product or service is ready. Waiting for the final version can cost a lot of money and effort. Use constant feedback to improve your product or service and then get to market with something you have tried.
Finalize versions. Everything can be improved, but there is no need to wait for a perfect product or service. One of the major mistakes of entrepreneurs, especially engineers, is to continue adding functionality to the product, which leads to eternal development cycles. Having an original version and closing it once the original objectives have been met is important. Later, you’ll have time to make improvements in subsequent versions.
Address a need. Another major error of technological entrepreneurs is developing something just because they have the ability to do so, without regard to any needs of the target audience. The end result is often a technology that lives in search of a market, the cause of death for many companies. It is much better to start in reverse, realizing that something is missing or could be improved and then seizing the opportunity.
Follow your instinct. Listening to others, your clients, mentors and friends, is recommendable but be careful because you will face many different opinions and you can lose your way. Follow your instinct and accept advice, but without losing the essence of why you began in the first place. If you try to make everyone happy, you will probably fall into mediocrity.
Differentiate yourself. Make sure you have some important differential value over your competitors. Doing the same as others is not enough. You have to do it better, cheaper or in a different way to excel in the market. Your business must have a clear advantage over the rest that is also sustainable over time to prevent someone bigger coming along and competing with your same advantage.
Persist. Success usually takes time, so you have to be persistent in your attempt to achieve it. If you get frustrated quickly, entrepreneurship is not your thing. Do not confuse persistence with obstinacy: be persistent but also learn to lose. One of my favourite sayings is “lose, but do not lose the lesson.” Even by losing, you can gain courage and experience.
Delegate. You have to learn to delegate, you cannot do everything yourself. Entrepreneurs often believe that only they can do something right and take a hand in everything. This can eventually lead them to ruin. As a company grows finding specialists for different areas is essential. Lean on people you trust and that you can eventually train to be better than you in a specific area and give them power to carry out tasks.
Control your ego. Many people find criticism difficult to accept, but we must always learn to listen. Pride is the natural enemy of success, so if you shut yourself off from the world, you end up being the only customer of your development.
Lose your fear. Challenge yourself, explore and dare to do things that you have not done or have not been done before. While it is true that if you do not try you will not fail, it is also true that if you do not try you will never succeed. Most of the most successful entrepreneurs made many mistakes and learned from them, and that made them better and more valuable in the end.
Help others. In Mexico, this happens a lot. We tend to follow a route without looking at those we tread on, without giving or asking for help. If you become successful, give a little back to those who are behind you and to the ecosystem itself. In addition to generating good karma we promote Mexico’s image to the outside world. The fact that there are more successful projects helps us all, because it improves the conditions for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Although being dogmatic about rules on entrepreneurship is difficult, (after all, it is an adventure), perhaps you may get something from these tips. And, of course, extend the list with some of your own experiences. Can you think of any?
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