The Untold Truth About Entrepreneurship: 10 Hard Truths People Rarely Reveal
If you are going to try, go all the way.
The term Entrepreneurship stems from the French word entreprendre, which is usually translated as "undertaker" or "adventurer."
The moment I finished my studies in electrical engineering and business, I knew that I would eventually become an entrepreneur.
There was something about the whole concept that resonated with my entire being.
The risk-taking, the creativity, the holistic approach to knowledge, all made sense to me and allowed me to be drawn to entrepreneurship from a young age.
Over the span of the last seven years, I founded three businesses, and, I can confidently argue, that those were the most dynamic, revelatory, productive, and turbulent years of my life. I faced success, I faced failure, I faced adversity, I faced the truth, I faced myself.
They say that the only way to self-mastery is by assuming absolute control over your life processes. Entrepreneurship is one of the activities that can have a massive impact on that area. It is an activity that will not only allow you to take matters into your own hands, but also reveal the true essence of the words responsibility, discipline, and productivity.
In this article, I will reveal some things that you seldom find on the headlines of famous media outlets. These are things that you learn only when you have hands on experience in the area and you have spent days and nights trying to polish your strategies. My hope is that by revealing these things, I will save you money, time, energy, regrets and unwanted conflict.
Whether you are an entrepreneur already, or you are thinking to start your own business, this article will prove invaluable along the way.
Entrepreneurship boils down to common sense
…but common sense isn’t always common practice. That’s something a former colleague of mine told me while I was working as a business consultant in London. This simple yet powerful remark has stayed with me, and I keep referring to it, till this very day.
The real question, however, is this: what does common sense look like and how do I know I have it?
Common sense is nothing more than good sense and sound judgment in practical matters. Some examples include:
- You can’t hire someone just because you know them. It is common sense that you need to evaluate their background and identify whether or not it fits the type of product you sell.
- You can't look and act unprofessionally. It is common sense that if you look and act that way nobody will trust you.
- You can’t expect your sales people to improvise on how to promote your product. It is common sense that you need to train them and provide them with the necessary sales pitches and strategies.
- You need to create an accurate image of your ideal customer. It is common sense that you need to know your customers in order to find them, understand their needs and target them accordingly.
Additionally, you identify common sense by detaching yourself from your ego and by stepping into your customer’s shoes.
When you start your own business, you are blinded by your ego. It is the same feeling you get when you have your first child. Your business is your baby. You have an idea of how to raise it, but, because it is your “possession” you can’t see things objectively, oftentimes reverting to unorthodox practices and behaviors. Even if you do things wrong, you are convinced that you do things right. Most business owners fall into this trap and therefore suffer dramatically.
I understand that when you do things wrong and you eventually have to face potential change, more often than not, you develop resistance towards change. You aren’t sure what to expect and you don’t know if the required change, which will certainly require time and money investment, will yield the expected returns.
Well, I can assure you that if things aren’t going as planned, change is the surest way to go. I read somewhere that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That is very relevant when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Your idea is worth nothing and traction is everything
Some years ago, I attended an amazing entrepreneurship conference called Pioneers Festival. One of the speakers was Philipp Moehring from Angelist who gave a prodigious speech on what investors look for when they evaluate your company. In one of his slides, he mentioned this:
This is a ranking of factors when it comes to product evaluation. As you can see, the idea gets -1.
That is something incredibly important to grasp. Your idea, no matter how innovative you think it is, no matter how interesting it sounds in your head, no matter how much research you have put into it, is worth nothing.
If your team is not great, if your execution is not close to perfect, if you haven’t properly identified your niche, if you don’t understand your customer’s needs, the idea is worth nothing.
Which brings us to the most important part when it comes to product and business evaluations: Traction.
If your product is converting, if it is generating revenue, and if it is attracting interest, it is a great product.
Great investors know that once your product generates traction and reaches product-market fit, it has the potential to become a gold mine.
The reason I stress the importance of this is because a lot of founders exhibit two bad habits:
- Are secretive about their ideas.
- Give insane evaluations to their companies when they are actually worth nothing.
So, the main principle here is that, in the beginning, you have to assume that you know nothing and that your idea is worth nothing.
This allows you to be humble and make sure that you will focus on the fundamentals and on building traction for your business.
I have met a lot of entrepreneurs who suggest that as far as your product is great, your branding doesn’t matter.
This is very wrong and the reason is twofold:
- Humans are visual creatures. We are attracted to aesthetically pleasing views and we will always favor something beautiful to something ugly.
- Every successful salesman and marketing person will tell you that most buyers are impulsive. They don’t always buy something because they need it, but more because they are convinced that they need it. Part of that convincing is how the product looks.
That said, I am not suggesting that it is ok for your product to be average and that you should spend most of your time on marketing and branding.
What I suggest, is that you should spend an equal amount of time on creating a great product and on promoting it successfully.
Great branding makes your product look professional and people can trust you easier.
Every product out there has to face competition. Successful branding is one of the surest ways to make your product stand out.
Networking amounts to probably 50% of success
You will hear a lot of people stress out the importance of networking in business success, but you can’t really understand that importance if you don’t experience it first hand.
Networking allows you to meet the right people and these people feel obliged to help you if you were introduced to them by someone they trust and respect.
Now, this is good in theory but practically it is quite laborious because it requires a lot of effort and great social skills. There are a lot of books out there that explain how it is done, but most of them repeat the same advice:
- Put yourself out there
- “Ping” constantly
- Be generous (buy people drinks, dinners etc.)
- Make it more about them and less about you
- Leverage social media for exposure
In that respect, I want to add one more thing: Do not consider networking unless you have made a lot of progress with your product development.
If you are just starting and you have just an idea, going to networking events is a waste of time. You might listen to some successful people promote their story and you might get some interesting feedback, but you will most probably end up disappointed because no one will be interested in you.
Make sure that you focus on creating a great product and once you see the first signs of traction, you will be in a position to network successfully.
Work only with people who are professional
Professionalism and delivery will help you stand out. It is absurd how many businesses are leaving money on the table because of their inability to exude professionalism.
In one of the businesses I started, our operations were in Greece. Some of the companies I decided to contact, in order to buy raw material and other services for my product, left me dumbfounded with their lack of professionalism. I wanted to make really big orders, way bigger than what they usually get, and instead of over-delivering, they lacked enthusiasm and oftentimes they didn't even respond to emails. There is nothing worse than that when it comes to business.
So, if you really want to stand out, make sure to:
- Respond promptly
- Be polite
- Offer competitive prices
When hiring people, do the beer test
Some years ago, I attended a startup event. Among the presenters was a company that developed a platform that helps consumers find the cheapest price of a product online.
They are a very successful company and they stand out because of their incredible work environment. That, however, didn't happen to them accidentally. Hiring the right people is a very challenging endeavor and many new companies face extreme problems because of that.
What the representative of this company suggests, is that when hiring, you should do the beer test. What this means in simple words is this: Ask yourself: If you go out for a beer with this person, will you have a good time?
Does this person show empathy? Can they listen? Can they contribute? Are they open-minded? How do they handle criticism? Are they eager to learn? Can they stay cool under pressure?
All these are extremely critical and when coupled with a solid technical background and work ethic, you found the perfect match for your hire.
The beginning is the most difficult part and preparation will save you time
Your beginning will be emotionally exhausting. You will be really enthusiastic and everything, but once you realize how overwhelming the processes of entrepreneurship can be, you will start having second thoughts.
That’s why, what I suggest to people who have no previous experience in the area, is to invest some time in studying the subject, before starting the business. There is a ton of online courses on entrepreneurship, marketing, sales, management, and coding out there. With so much free knowledge, the world is your oyster.
Before I quit my day job as a business consultant, I spent almost a year reading and studying entrepreneurship. I still didn’t have a good idea of what this new world really is. I understood it when I actually started being “in business.”
However, when you start working on your project, make sure to focus primarily on getting things done. Don’t inundate your schedule with podcasts and blogs and social media. You will lose your ability to focus and your performance will suffer dramatically.
If you have a concrete work ethic in place, that is characterized by discipline, flow immersion, and time management, everything will work out fine.
Until your launch, everything will be vague and uncertain, but after your launch, you will get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t in order to make the necessary adjustments and corrections.
You will soon realize that after you spend some time “living” your product, you will feel that you “own” its processes and some things will work automatically. This is the best time because it is then when you can actually focus on profitability and growth.
Share your journey because that increases engagement
This is something a bit advanced, but also something that has helped companies enjoy tremendous growth.
Sharing your journey allows your clients or customers to get an insider’s view of your business. It demonstrates that you are transparent and confident about your product and culture, and this makes you look interesting and approachable.
Take for instance the example of Space X. Elon Musk is a master at this. In space X, he sells the journey impeccably. Just check out this ad:
Space X emphasizes on the journey. A journey almost everybody wants to take part in.
Additionally, their events are astonishing and the enthusiasm of their followers is palpable.
It’s almost impossible not to resonate with this.
The two methods of product launch
There is usually a lot of confusion when people start.
As I mentioned before, there are many things to be done and you oftentimes lose track of what really matters.
From my experience, two are the methods you can adopt before launching the product.
The Japanese method and the beta method.
The Japanese method
Japanese people are notorious for their proactivity and preparation. The Japanese method is inspired by the Japanese mentality and suggests that before your launch you should spend a significant amount of time making the first version of your product great and your branding professional.
Bear in mind that you should choose this method when you are very confident that your product can stand out. You can evaluate that when you have identified a certain gap in a big market.
Maybe you live in a developing country and you can bring a technology or product that is a big hit elsewhere around the world.
Or maybe you think that the products in a specific market aren't that competitive and you can build something better.
The beta method
If your idea is quite innovative, test it in a small segment of the market first.
Find a group of people who might be interested in the idea and pitch it to them.
For instance, go to a subreddit or a forum and ask people what they think about your idea. If you get an overwhelmingly positive response, design a prototype or beta version and give it away for free so people can test it.
If people like it, you have established a potentiality for a great product or service. Now it’s up to your mentality and execution if it will become successful.
It will be the most difficult thing you will ever do in your life
Entrepreneurship includes risk, includes losing money, includes losing friends, includes losing your mind.
A lot of people will question you, a lot of people will envy you, and a lot of people will admire you.
At the end of the day, none of that matters.
The reason you decided to start your own business should be unaffected by external influence. Maybe you do it because it is challenging and because it gives your life more meaning. Maybe you do it because you want to make money and you think that money can buy you some freedom. Maybe you do it because you don’t like having a boss and you want to be your own boss.
Be clear about your reasoning. Clear reasoning leads to clarity of intent and this makes your progress way smoother.
I will conclude this article with a great quote from Charles Bukowski, one of my favorite writers:
“If you’re going to try, go all the way.
Otherwise, don’t even start.
This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind.
It could mean not eating for three or four days.
It could mean freezing on a park bench.
It could mean jail.
It could mean derision.
It could mean mockery — isolation.
Isolation is the gift.
All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.
And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.
And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.
If you’re going to try, go all the way.
There is no other feeling like that.
You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.
You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.
It’s the only good fight there is.”
Business requires discipline, holistic thinking, soft skills, time management, and proper day structure. I discuss all these and even more in the “30 Challenges-3o Days-Zero Excuses” ebook. It is a well researched ebook that will help you hone your entrepreneurial mindset. Try the challenges. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. Check it out here.
Thinker | Writer | Youtuber