Hasan Surtiwala     ISB   |   Startups     🕐 09. Nov. 2017
Taking someone’s advice can be tempting and daunting at the same time. You are not really sure if the person giving you the advice is actually saying it for your own or his/her own benefit or genuinely wants to help you. But like all matters in life, you can listen to all advice and apply none or some, or simply learn by your own mistakes and experience. The latter part, tend to be the most memorable and where you learn the most. Why, you wonder? Wouldn’t it be smarter to simply listen to someone who already experienced something only to past it on so whoever listens won’t have to suffer? Like a father caring for his children… Yes that would be the smarter choice but at the age where we are supposed to listen to advice we’ve been children and teenagers for a longer time than we’ve been adults and consequently have a rebellious nature. Now, this is all paradoxical when we as human mortals would take anything for free, at any given time. The listening and applying aspect of it is all up to you. Not long ago on my 31st birthday I shared 31 life lessons learned in life and particularly in business, but instead of the one-liners I’ll make an attempt to elaborate so it makes a little more sense. Apart from being an entrepreneur (currently a want-trepreneur), working in VC and fund raising I also advice young start-ups about what not to do and figure out the rest. So without further ado, here’s my 7 pieces of a well earned pie with a bitter sweet taste.
1. As an entrepreneur you’re everything between the C&O
Most entrepreneurs (at least back in the days) used to be a bunch of generalists with no hardcore skill in one particular area. They either wanted to get rich or knew how to get rich and simply have other people help them along the way. The times which we now live in, entrepreneurs have become a commodity. It’s like if the ‘world’ needs something there are plenty of people to choose from and they usually chose the best in that one particular area of need. This has created a whole breed of solo-entrepreneurs, who live and work on their own terms. So in effect as a solo entrepreneur you literally are everything between C&O. Executive, Marketing, sales, innovation, financial whatever you have to do you are! Even if you’re starting the next unicorn tech-startup you’re probably going to be all of the middle letters before you fill them in with the right talent.
2. Work hard, try, fail and care not what others think
There is no substitute to hard work. Even talent can go take a hike. While talent is resting on its laurels of being talented hard-work is out there literally outworking talent. I personally believe that through hard-work talent can be developed and nurtured. Meaning over time you will be talented enough to make hard-work look easy. But being a hard-working amateur will entail some or a lot of failures. Like I’ve written before, failing and experiencing life lessons on your soul, mind and body tends to teach you more than listening to others. Of course you try to hedge your risks and avoid failure at all times, but if you do happen to fail, remember that there will be naysayers and losers out there saying condescending stuff like “I told you so….Dude, you have no business being in that business anyways...You just proved that God doesn’t exist, because if he did he would have been more merciful and made you somewhat talented…” Okay the last bit was a bit harsh, but someone could say that, point is, do not care! If you’re surrounding yourself with people who could even say something like that (unless it’s constructive critique and they actually care about you), they will never be able to fill in the missing letters between the C&O anyways. What do they know right….
3. Always innovate. Business changes in the blink of an eye
Learn to adapt and don’t recreate an old trend. I’ve personally done that many times in my life. I’ve predicted many major trends and business ideas which I simply failed to execute on and I’ve also made the mistake of jumping on a trend which is already taking off. To put it in perspective, imagine a sweet stock which surges ridiculous percentages in a matter of no time would you buy it? If you said yes, then you have no business being in business, but if your response was no, then this is why you’re right. A business trend which is already taking off and has created a new trend would have captured most of the market and set-up solid barriers of entry which would cost you tones of marketing money to break down. To give an example airbnb sort of pioneered the modern sharing economy, it’s a successful business and it’s cool and you probably wanna be in that space as well. Imagine the amount of time it will take you to change consumer behavior, capture their trust and loyalty, iterate to differentiate (even just a little bit) and spend on consumer awareness, proving you even exist. Simply put, if you missed the boat, catch or build the next one.
4. Create value. Profits are pleasant, but purpose is powerful
You can sell crap once and whoever you sold it to, simply won’t buy it again. A quick buck might feel nice, but it’s just temporary gratification. You might wake up the next day feeling like crap yourself. And honestly creating value is simply a good sense of business. If you sell something to someone of good value that someone will most likely come back. But whatever you do, do it with a purpose. Even it’s to make a good living, make it a purpose. The root of that passion will drive your incentives to create value and drive a good business. Nonetheless, if you do something of great meaning, the ‘universal forces’ will come together and help you make it a reality. Try doing good it usually works well.
5. The whole world is like a crowdfunding platform. The market pays you to achieve your material goals
Yes you might be self-made, yes you might have created everything from scratch, but there is a whole world of humanity who helped you get there. Look at kickstarter, indiegogo and all the other popular crowdfunding platforms. It’s basically a digital world of what’s been going on since billionaires and millionaires went from rags to riches. I call it the billionaire beggars. A beggar (bless them), has a need to be filled which they then ask for. Same with anyone who is a billionaire today, they had a vision which they asked others to help them fulfil. Someone pays you more than it cost you to produce and distribute #margins. Point is I don’t understand arrogant millionaires. No! You did not do it on your own, be humble, “it’s a one size fits all”.
6. Is your business really cash ready?
Having a cash ready business can mean two things; If someone or more wants to buy your product, are you capable of selling it in exchange for cash or are you still short for cash to actually being ABLE to sell it. If the latter is your case, seek funding. Raise some capital (but only based on the fact that someone is ready to buy your stuff). If you are still in the start-up mode, prove yourself, the market and only when you are ready to grow seek smart money. If you’re about to scale, expand, have a bigger team, seek funding. If you’re testing the waters, don’t. Bootstrap the life out of yourself, but don’t seek funding if you’re not ready. You’ll have backers to answer for and if you can’t justify how to spend the money. Forget ever getting any funding in the future.
7. You can’t do everything on your own. You only have 24hours and one brain.
Remember point 1? Well instead of being everything between the C&O, scout for the right talent and fill in the missing letters. I have throughout my career worked with all types of people. The fakers, the makers, the hustlers and the scammers. Each and every one of them has given me a valuable lesson. You know the old saying that you are the average of the company you keep? The same thing goes for business. If you work with fools you will get foolish results. Carefully pick the people representing you and your company and make sure they are fully aligned with your vision. It helps if you’re a good person and people actually wants to work for you. Bottom-line is, don’t hand out the letters just because you click well with someone. Sure chemistry is damn important, but so is if they actually match the missing letters. You can’t have two E’s or M’s in one company. The clash and decisions making process will forever haunt you after your business dies because of poor choice of people. And guess what, you can’t blame anyone else but yourself.
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