1. “We wasted $1,000,000 on a company that never launched”
Hiten Shah, Co-Founder at KISSmetrics
My co-founder and I spent $1,000,000 on a web hosting company that never launched. We were perfectionist so we built the best thing we could without even understanding what our customers cared about.
We have now learned to spend smart, optimize for learning and focus on customer delight.
Hiten has since co-founded two wildly successful analytics companies with KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg
2. “We built the website first and asked our customers about it later”
Robin Chase, Co-Founder of Zipcar
Get to your customers as fast as possible & learn from them to build your product. With my second company, GoLoco – social online ridesharing – we spent too much money on the website and software before engaging with our first customers. This meant that part of our learning was undoing our first guesses.
Robin is the Founder and CEO of Buzzcar and also the founder and former CEO of Zipcar
3. “One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made at Moz was to build “big bang” projects”
Rand Fishkin – CEO of Moz and Co-Founder of Inbound.org
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made at Moz was to repeatedly build “big bang” projects that required many months of development time without much visibility into progress. It’s sad because it actually worked a number of times, before we fell flat on our faces with a recent project that started in Q4 of 2011, was initially supposed to roll out in July of 2012, and has now been delayed until (fingers crossed) September of 2013. Missing something you budget and plan for by more than a year is really bad news in the startup world.
Don’t be like us – use agile development, have lots of visibility into progress, and keep your team accountable to each other.
Rand Fishkin is the CEO of Moz and co-founder of Inbound.org
4. “I started too late. I toiled in a job I hated for a long time.”
Leo Babauta – Best-selling author
I started too late – because of fear of failure or a lack of belief in myself. I toiled in a job I hated for a long time, instead of starting a blog or building a business I loved.
Knowing what I know now, I’d have started a decade earlier. Not starting is the worst-case scenario.
Leo Babauta is a best-selling author and an entrepreneur
5. “I tried to do it all by myself”
Leo Laporte – Founder of the TWiT network
My biggest mistake was trying to do it all myself. As a founder I felt like I knew everything I needed to know about media, content, even the technology involved to reach my audience. And I did. I just didn’t know anything at all about making a viable business: finance, marketing, advertising, and human resources.
After a few years of rapid growth my company had stalled out, and I was spending more time fighting fires than I was doing the stuff I loved (and that made us money).
Hiring a business partner then giving her full scope to do her job felt a little like giving up my company but it was a vital step toward success.
Leo Laporte is the founder of the TWiT network and host of The Tech Guy and This Week in Tech
6. “If you’re not 100% excited, say no”
Tim Ferriss – NYT Best-selling author of 3 books
Committing to too many ‘cool’ opportunities and projects. I think it’s important, as Derek Sivers (founder of CDBaby) would say, to either say ‘Hell, yes!’ or a flat ‘no’ to things. They should be definitive and binary.
If you’re not 100% excited, it should be a decline.
‘Kinda cool’ will fill up your calendar and leave you wondering where the last year – or 10 – went.
Tim Ferriss is the best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek and an entrepreneur
7. “I’ve let growth exceed my own ability to fund my business”
Michael Hyatt – NYT best-selling author
In 1992, I made the mistake of borrowing money to fund my growing company. Unfortunately, I did not understand the difference between rapid growth (like cancer) and healthy growth (normal cellular reproduction). Eventually, our growth consumed our capital and the business failed. I learned an important lesson:
Never let growth exceed my own ability to fund it. If I am tempted to seek outside funding, it is a sign of a flawed business model.
Michael Hyatt is the New York Times Best-selling author of Platform and also a serial entrepreneur
8. “Spreading myself too thinly over too many projects”
Neil Patel – Co-Founder of KISSmetrics
One of the biggest lessons I learned was not to spread myself too thin. Like other entrepreneurs I love trying to do multiple things at once.
But once I learned to focus all of my time and energy into one business, I was able to make it grow faster than all of my previous businesses.
Neil Patel co-founded KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg
9. “I built a product without understanding the market or the users”
Sandi MacPherson – Editor-in-Chief, Quibb
Last year, I spent 6 months building a product I wouldn’t use very often, in a market I wasn’t familiar with, for users I didn’t understand – big mistake.
It made it extremely difficult to figure out why things were or weren’t working, and I ended up creating a product that no one wanted.
I could never become the product expert, which is what every founder/CEO needs to be.
Sandi MacPherson is the Editor-in-Chief of Quibb
10. “I made the big mistake of being a ‘parallel entrepreneur’”
Dharmesh Shah – Co-Founder and CTO of HubSpot
Here’s my biggest mistake: After having bootstrapped a reasonably successful software company ($10M+ in revenue) I mistakenly thought—Hey, I’ve got a team in place, the company doesn’t really need me, and I’m sort of bored and want to do something new. So, I made the big mistake of being a “parallel entrepreneur”. Trying to head up two different startups at the same time.
This was a huge mistake at many different levels. Turns out, startups are an all-consuming thing. You can’t be all-consumed by two companies at the same time – it just doesn’t work.
My original startup team (the team I had recruited personally) felt abandoned. My new startup (the one I angel-funded) didn’t feel enough pressure to find product market fit and get revenues.
So, my advice: Don’t do what I did. Don’t ever, ever, ever try to ride two horses at the same time.
It does’t work, and you’re going both a disservice. Even with complete, total focus, most startups fail – to divide interests across them basically guarantees failure.
Dharmesh Shah is a Co-Founder and CTO at HubSpot
11. “Protect your company culture”
Derek Sivers – Founder of CD Baby
Protect your internal culture, no matter what.
Once it turns nasty, it never goes back. Fire a rotten apple immediately.
Note from Belle: Derek wrote a great blog post about this which expands on how he felt after having issues with his company’s culture. Here’s a little snippet:
I cut two chapters out of my book because they were too nasty. They vented all the awful details about how my terrible employees staged a mutiny to try to get rid of me, and corrupted the culture of the company into a festering pool of entitlement, focused only on their benefits instead of our clients.
Afterwards, I spent a few years still mad at those evil brats for what they did. So, like anyone feeling victimized and wronged, I needed to vent – to tell my side of the story. Or so I thought.
So do you want to know the real reason I cut those chapters? I realized it was all my fault.
I let the culture of the company get corrupted.
I ignored problems instead of nipping them in the bud.
Derek Sivers is a best-selling author and entrepreneur
12. “I put myself before Facebook, it cost me $100,000,000”
Noah Kagan – Chief Sumo, AppSumo
When I got fired from Facebook, it was my entire life. My social circle, my validation, my identity and everything was tied to this company.
As the company grew, I wasn’t able to adapt. One of the reasons why was that I was selfish.I wanted attention, I put myself before Facebook. I hosted events at the office, published things on this blog to get attention and used the brand more than I added to it.
Lesson learned: The BEST way to get famous is make amazing stuff. That’s it. Not blogging, networking, etc.
Noah Kagan is Chief Sumo of AppSumo
13. “People really are everything in business”
Jesse Jacobs – Founder, Samovar Tea Lounge
One thing I’ve learned over 12 years running Samovar Tea Lounge is the importance of having the right people on your team.
It’s worth the extra effort to find the right investors, employees, and vendors who believe in your company’s mission and passionately desire to contribute to it – not just those who want to punch the clock or get their share of profits. People really are everything in business, and the people you align yourself with will either buoy you up or weigh you down.
15 Habits Only Real Entrepreneurs Who’ve Struggled Know About
Posted on April 1, 2015
Being a real entrepreneur isn’t easy.
By real entrepreneur, I mean someone who has turned an idea into a profitable startup with their own two hands, their own money and a carefully chosen team. I’m talking about the bootstrapped entrepreneur who hustles at every corner and is constantly working, sometimes too much for their own good. They’re the kind of entrepreneurs who have survived on nearly nothing but still came out successful in the end.
Then there are the wantrepreneurs, the ones who play pretend-hustler with visions of a venture capitalist saying, “I’d like to give you a million dollars to build your company.” Skip to the scene at the Lamborghini dealer and fast forward to bottle service and models at some exclusive club.
In reality, there are things that you can only learn by being immersed in hardship. It shapes your character, you learn new ways to survive, and you develop lifelong habits.
Here are 15 habits only a real entrepreneur develops when they struggle for success.
1. Go to bed early and wake up early. You probably don’t really know what a productive day of work is if you haven’t woken up at 5 a.m. before. Of course, to wake up this early, you have to go to bed early, and if you are trying to get the recommended eight hours of sleep, that means you need to sleep at 9 p.m. If you aspire to be like billionaire Richard Branson, you should wake up at 5 a.m. because you want to get the most out of each day.
2. Stop using your devices before bed. This is a pretty hard habit to kick, but when you stick to it you’ll notice the difference right away. The blue light from your screen dramatically reduces melatonin in your system and disrupts your body’s ability to fall asleep. The next morning, you pay the consequences with irritability, the inability to focus, and you add to your risk of developing serious health issues.
3. Drink lots of water. When you first wake up, drink a glass of water. When you finish your morning coffee, drink a glass of water. Just finished a glass of water? It’s a perfect time for another glass of water. Hydrating when you wake up is the first part to entrepreneur Hal Elrod’s morning success ritual. Studies also show that staying hydrated is key for optimum brain function. You can’t be successful if you don’t maintain your brain.
4. Eat healthy. Eating ramen might be stereotypical for a poor college kid or struggling entrepreneur, but it unfortunately carries some health risks. Eating organic vegetables might sound expensive, but the price per serving of nutrients actually makes for a great deal. Eating healthy fats is also key to caring for your brain and heart. Becoming successful will mean nothing if you don’t take measures to look after your health now.
5. Make time to exercise. If you aren’t getting the hint, health is everything. It’s one of the toughest habits to develop, but the benefits are plentiful. It forces you to set aside time each day, which means you will have to organize your day on a set schedule. It’s a widely known fact that exercise is a great stress reliever and helps to clear and focus the mind. This habit is especially important for every entrepreneur that has to sit at a computer all day.
6. Be frugal. You have to understand that frugality is not the same thing as stinginess. Don’t waste food, and be smart about finding deals. Learn to live on very little in case of emergency; make every dollar as efficient as possible. Elon Musk once challenged himself to survive on a dollar a day for a month in college just to see if he could survive on an extremely low income.
7. Give as much as you can. Even if you don’t have much, everyone has something to offer. Knowledge, skills and favors are often worth more than money or nice things. Billionaire Li Ka-Shing suggests buying lunch for people who are more important than you because it increases your reputation and value as a generous person. You never know how even seemingly insignificant nice gestures will pay off for you in the future.
8. Be gracious. A sense of gratitude is key for a positive mindset. People who are thankful enjoy a ton of benefits — they are more productive, others enjoy their company more, they are more genuine, they can handle failure better, and studies show they even live longer because they are less stressed. Be thankful for everything you have in life and for all the times someone else above you has given you a hand up. At the very least, it’s polite to say, “thank you,” and really mean it.
9. Be relaxed. Nothing gets accomplished if you let stress dictate your attitude. Working all day on a startup struggling to get traction is stressful, and that means you have to train yourself to reduce that stress at the end of each day. Take a quiet walk just to think or meditate and clear your mind. Volunteering also dramatically reduces stress. Actor, comedian and sage Bill Murray has said that the secret to being great at your job, being successful and having fun is to just relax yourself.
10. Keep good company. If you want to elevate yourself in life, you have to start by elevating the company you keep. Entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This is completely true. If you spend most of your time with people who are smarter, busier, more successful and happier than you, you will learn to develop those same habits.
11. View risks and failure as opportunities. You have to fail, but every time you adapt and improve you get closer to success. Entrepreneur Dan Peña says, “Fail, but fail fast.” Get it over with, because the most important part about failure is what you do after, so don’t ever get hung up on a single failure. Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself. If someone told you that you will fail exactly 1,000 times before you become very successful, would you still continue on that path? Keep pushing, because as billionaire Mark Cuban said, “You only have to be right once!”
12. Be Patient. The part they never tell you about overnight success is that there were countless late nights of hard work before that. Making a startup successful can take many years. It took Jack Ma nearly 15 years, who started out as a heavily doubted underdog in a one-bedroom apartment, to make Alibaba the global success it is today. If you feel you can’t last that long working for almost nothing and giving every bit of energy you have to a company that has every reason in the world to fail, you aren’t entrepreneur material.
13. Learn to invest. This one is only for those that have the time, inclination and money to spare. If you are going to work hard, your money should also work hard too. Investing in retirement plans, the stock market and real estate is a good way to grow your money and plan for the future. Apps designed for millennials to track and trade on the stock market now make the process easier than ever. Who knows what you can learn about markets and economics — plus, it never hurts to have a backup plan.
14. Respect always has to be earned. The amount of money you have in the bank, the car you drive, or even what you’ve done in the past does not earn you respect. It has to be constantly earned with your own hard work with your own two hands. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson explains: “My dad [Rocky Johnson] broke color barriers in pro wrestling. The best advice he instilled in me as a kid: ‘Respect is given when it’s earned […] so get out there and earn it.’ I still do today.”
15. Love yourself. The key to selling anything is to love the product. If you are trying to sell yourself — your skills, your personality, your startup — to, say, an investor or potential employer, you have to love yourself. When someone wants to invest in your company, they are really trusting their money with the person who’s steering the ship. If you were a product, would you buy yourself?