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OWNER'S MANUAL

10 Startup Lessons You Won't Learn in School
 

Sooner or later, every entrepreneur learns a few of the same things.

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It's incredibly tough to get accepted to a top business school. But that's okay, since the best startup school is the School of Hard Knocks, the institution where every applicant gets accepted (and no one ever truly graduates because there are always more lessons to be learned.)

Here are ten lessons Danielle Newnham learned from interviewing dozens of tech entrepreneurs for her book, Mad Men of Mobile:

1. Tell everyone about your idea. Entrepreneurs are notoriously paranoid. You may think that talking about your business idea on social networks will result in your competitors stealing your idea, but that won't happen. Work on something that isn't easy to replicate and ensure you have the right team to build it. Value is in the execution, not the idea.

2. Ignore advice. The number of people who talk about starting a business far outweighs the number who actually start a business. That's because somewhere along the line they get their high energy optimism knocked out of them by a so-called reality check from well-meaning friends, family and colleagues: "You're too young/old," "You have no experience," "You have no capital..."

The truth is no one understands your business or drive better than you. Go with your gut. Trust your instinct and start something.

You'll soon find out whether your business is viable.

3. Go with an early launch date. There is nothing that gets a team working better or harder than facing an urgent deadline. If you have too long to prepare your product you will find endless reasons to delay getting it out there. No product is perfect, but every product can be refined with time and use and feedback.

4. Choose co-founders the way you would choose a spouse. The reality is that you will, at least in the early days, spend far more time with your co-founders than your partner--which is probably why such a high number of entrepreneurs end up divorced (here's to keep that from happening to you.) Ensure you pick co-founders who not only complement your skills, experience, andpersonality but who you will also enjoy spending huge amounts of time with.

A great founding team is the single most important factor in ensuring your business succeeds. It will take all your team has in order to get there.

5. Be annoying. The key ingredient to making any business work is loving it so passionately that it consumes your every breathing moment. You will talk about it all day and dream about making it better at night. Nothing else will matter. It's that annoyingly determined drive that will get through the tough times, of which there will be plenty.

Chris Barton, co-founder of Shazam, sums it up well when he says, "The number one determinant of entrepreneurial success is persistence. If you are not prepared to go to super human levels that are beyond rationality to realize your dream, then your chance of finding success is virtually zero."

6. It's not about the money. Of all the entrepreneurs I have met, not one built their company in order to sell it. That doesn't mean they didn't sell; selling just wasn't their goal. If your eyes are on the exit you will never find it. Build the kind of company where you would be happy to work for many years to come. In the process you will build a team of loyal and passionate team players that will help you achieve success because they will all be on your side, rooting for you.

7. Don't simply hire the smartest kid in the room. Recruiting is one of the most difficult, time consuming and costly parts of running a startup. What you need is a team of entrepreneur-like minds who will work with you to achieve your vision, even if it means working long hours for less pay.

While you might think you need the genius that graduated top of her class, you actually need the kid who has an abnormal amount of drive, is willing to take risks, and has a hunger to help you succeed--so they can too.

8. Every employee is replaceable. You need to be able to do the job of every member of staff. You should know every aspect of what is required to run your business. Never be left vulnerable if the finance guy decides to jack it in, or your co-founder has a hissy fit and decides to walk out one day.

Start your business by doing every job yourself. It's the only way to learn what you need and who will then be best able to do it for you.

9. Failure is good. American culture is far better at embracing failure compared to Europe, where a business going under is seen as an embarrassment. The fact is that if you try you will sometimes fail. It's the nature of the beast. However, if you never try, you will undoubtedly kick yourself when you see your company built by someone else. In order to succeed, you should make mistakes--failing is a great way to learn how to succeed.

10. You only get one chance. Most entrepreneurs find that building a great business takes an extraordinary amount of skill and team effort, and finding the right ingredients again isn't always possible.

Of course there are some who seem to get it right time and time again, but still, make sure you enjoy the startup journey. Take time out once in a while to smile at the company you built from nothing but an idea.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Jan 20, 2014

JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.
@jeff_haden




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