I’m one of those people who other people (I think) call an entrepreneur. While I’ve spent part of my career working for other companies, the truth is that there was always that idea, that desire to make my own company, driving me forward every day.
Now, as the Co-Founder and CEO of Dealstruck, I’m one of those people who other people (I hope) call a successful entrepreneur. The reality though, is that the path to a successful business, large or small, is dotted with both success and failure. Some of those things you can see coming, other things you just have to learn through experience – here are a few things I look back on that I wish I knew when I started my business.
1. The Importance of Partners or “It’s Lonely Running a Business”
Having a partner, or partners, is great for a few reasons. The first is that the lone wolf approach can make it easy to lose touch. Having at least one other person building a business with you adds balance, another set of eyes, and a perspective that can help you realize when your ideas – no matter how good you think they are – are a little too far fetched.
The second is that it’s incredibly lonely running a business. At Dealstruck we recently surpassed 50 employees, people who I enjoy working with every day. It’s a fantastic experience to learn about them, their lives, what drives them, and to forge great relationships.
There’s an important thing to realize though – at the end of the day, I’m still the boss. The ongoing success or failure of the company hangs around my neck, and as the boss I get to deal with the sum of everyone’s stress on top of my own. That line ultimately defines the employee/boss relationship, so it’s nice to have someone on my side of things with whom to empathize.
2. It’s a Long Journey, or, “Be Ready for a Marathon”
If I could hop in a time machine and ask younger me how long he thought it would take to get Dealstruck off the ground, I’d laugh in his face before hopping back in my DeLorean and booking it to 88 MPH.
When building anything, especially a business, I’m reminded of the rule of two: “Everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you expect in the beginning”. Building a company is a fantastic act of creation, one which brings people together by your sheer will to build something where nothing existed, but it doesn’t happen on your schedule.
I’ve now experienced a few of the milestones that many people can imagine are the “big event”: getting seed funding, hiring my first employee, moving into a proper office space, and recently earning a Series A investment. I look ahead though and know that success isn’t measured in weeks or months, but in the many years to come. An employee can walk away from the business, but a small business owner can’t, so settle in for the long haul and be ready to take the good with the bad.
3. Chaos is the Norm, or, “You Are Not a Unique Snowflake”
The dream of entrepreneurship is a lot like a fairytale – you expect “happily ever after”. But in reality, it comes with a lot of harrowing events. In the past few years I can count off quite a few times where something severely bad happened that threatened the business that I thought were one-in-a-million occurrences.
The truth is they’re actually the norm. Talk to any established entrepreneur and they’ll all be able to share similar stories. They can range from the time they were sued to the time they lost their biggest client; the time their trade secrets were leaked to a competitor to the time they screwed up in a live interview. The list doesn’t stop, but with that lovely thing called hindsight, you’ll realize those catastrophes were more like bumps in the road and something every business owner will have to deal with over time.
4. You Are Your Own Worst Enemy, or, “The Imposter Syndrome”
It’s really easy to get into your own head, especially when you look around at moments and feel like a fraud. Your employees look at you like you have all the answers, but you think, “Hey, I’m just a regular guy fumbling along.”
This line of thought is easy to keep following. “What if my investors or my employees find out the truth? What if they realize I don’t know everything?”
They do, so relax.
As a business owner you need to remember that you don’t need to have all the answers, and that your value as a person isn’t inextricably tied to the value of your company. If you don’t take some time balancing your work life with your personal life, it can be easy to fall prey to self-doubt.
For me, that now means trying to ground myself, to go out and just be me, even if things at work are a little rough. Back to my first point, this is where having a partner is great, someone you can count on to share the burden and the stress. If you have only yourself, it’s hard to get out of your head and be objective.