Even though I’ve been on an entrepreneurship journey for more than four years, I still consider myself an “entrepreneur wannabe,” because I haven't yet achieved what I think of as the kind of success a real entrepreneur has achieved. However, most people I know in the entrepreneurship ecosystem say "failure is a blessing," which is true. I've failed many times and learnt a lot of lessons the hard way. Those lessons are worth sharing with my fellow “entrepreneur wannabes”:
1. Friendship and business don't mix
I don't mean that you can't start a business with friends, or make friends through business. I mean that friendship should never influence the way you do business, and business should never influence your friendship. I've been through a few experiences and I've seen others mixing between both, and in most cases, it ended up ruining both the business and the friendship.
2. "No" is not a bad thing to say
We all know that startups might give false- or exaggerated- information in their pitches to clients, including basic over-promises. While it’s important to make a good sales pitch, you can't offer something that you can't deliver. "No" is not a bad thing to say at that point, especially if that "no" is about something that doesn't fit within your scope of work or something that you don't have the resources to deliver. Maintaining your reputation in the market is more important, so prioritize and concentrate on what you are able to offer instead of becoming a jack-of-all-trades and a master of nothing.
3. More cash means more impact
When I got into social entrepreneurship, I always thought that I should maximize my impact, and ignored the fact that I have to make money. So I've faced hard times trying to sustain my business. For a startup, cash is extremely important, especially if you have a lot of expenses that include salaries of your employees, a critical factor that shouldn't be affected by your anti-making-money vision. Whether it's a social business or not, you have to make sure you secure enough cash that you can obtain the resources you need to improve your impact.
4. What you like to do is not necessarily what you're good at
When I started my business, I was planning to venture into the web development business as a service provider, because my educational background and my work experience revolved around web development. However, I was lucky enough to also work on many other things during my time as an employee, so I also learned marketing, sales and business development.
After a couple of years, I figured out that there's a difference between what I'm good at and what I like to do, because what I'm good at is something that I can always learn. The business model at my company turned into providing social ventures with communication services, which allowed me to leverage my communication background to be more creative and better serve my clients, while launching an online business. It was also a sustainable model that allowed me to secure revenue.
If you’re doing what you love, you will always find a way to find a niche or establish one, and you will never get bored of it.
5. Badmouthing your competition will backfire
Building your reputation should be built on the value you add to your clients; comparing yourself to what's worse, whether it's right or not, will backfires on you. Being good friends with your competitors, where possible, will allow you to establish space for cooperation, and possibly gain more insight about the market than you would have if you kept them as enemies.
6. Empower your team and give them reasons (beyond cash) to be loyal
It's usually hard for startups, especially those with no seed funding, to hire senior staff. Fresh graduates and junior candidates as well are usually more interested in working with big corporations, which is justifiable when it comes to their desire for job security and working within a bigger team. One of the biggest benefits to working at a startups is that it will often give employees the chance to better discover themselves as they get involved in many other things beyond their main job, but this wouldn't happen unless the founders give staff that space to get involved in several aspects. Sharing your experience with your staff makes them feel that they are more empowered and more responsible; thus, by sharing your ups and downs with them, you improve their loyalty towards your company.
7. Surround yourself with people who can yell at you for your own good
Surrounding yourself with people who have the courage to tell you you’re wrong when it's needed is very important. These are the passionate ones, who care about the company’s success more than those who keep giving you unjustified compliments. Mentors who show you your unseen mistakes are priceless, and you should always stick to and ask them about anything that you doubt.