I started my first business at age 13. Over the next eighteen years, I launched six more, with only the final company leading to an acquisition by Salesforce. Throughout my journey, I made about every mistake a young entrepreneur can make and learned a lot of painful lessons in the process.
Back then, there were fewer resources for beginners. Here are the best ten pieces of advice I can give to entrepreneurs that I wish I had known when I was starting out.
1. Just start.
The most common question I hear is, "How do I start a business?"--but that's not the real question. Usually what young entrepreneurs really want to know is how to get the confidence to start or how to begin without funding.
I have said this a million times at a million talks: There is absolutely nothing better than to just start. Stop over-thinking, stop procrastinating, stop waiting for circumstances to be perfect, stop waiting for validation--just start. Even if you fail miserably, you'll learn what to do better next time.
2. Dress the part.
This doesn't necessarily mean wearing a suit and tie. Someone once told me the only way to command a room is to be one of three things: The smartest, the most successful, or the best-dressed. As a young entrepreneur, you likely have just one of those to go on, so own it. As a start-up CEO, that could mean jeans and a black t-shirt (like I used to wear every day), but they better be well-fitted, stylish, and confidence-inducing.
3. If it's not working, kill it.
Failure isn't easy, but rather than letting it take you down, you have to accept it, and even thrive in it. This means taking control of your failures and getting ahead of them. If a new project isn't working, you have to take it behind the woodshed and shoot it before it's too late. And just remember--the greatest ideas tend to rise from the ashes of failure.
4. Communicate beautifully.
I am so passionate about this topic, I may write an entire book on it. The grace and diligence of your communication--whether it's an email, a pitch deck or a speech--can make or kill a business. Emails should be well-written, grammatically correct, and formatted perfectly. A pitch deck should be stunning, pixel-perfect and enjoyable to read.
When we communicate beautifully, it automatically heightens our audience's interest and exhibits credibility.
5. Be selective with your trust.
There's a lot of murky water in business and a lot of people looking to take advantage. Especially as you're getting started, you should always be cautious about any guidance you receive and verify everything independently.
6. If you find crucial employees, do everything to keep them.
There is nothing more important than a strong team, especially if your company is growing quickly. If you're lucky enough to find lieutenants that are strong and trustworthy, then do everything you can to keep them inspired, dedicated and happy. Replacing a key team member early on can be a critical blow.
7. Do not ignore branding.
Unless you're some obscure B2B company and your brand is irrelevant, you should put concerted effort and budget towards branding. A strong logo, punchy messaging and attractive materials pay huge dividends.
8. Manage your time with "3 Lists".
Keep a running document with three columns.
On the left, list things you find yourself doing regularly that other people could do for you--busy work, scheduling, payroll. Focus on delegating these and emptying this column quickly as feasible. Work hard to delegate this list over time until it's 0% of your time.
In the middle column, list things that take some skill or you're passionate about, but aren't necessarily unique to your role--organizing events, leading status meetings, negotiating contracts. Try to only allow this list to take up 20% of your day or less.
The third column is for things that only you can do--setting executive-level goals, managing the Board, leading all-hands update meetings and pitches. Focus as much of your effort on this list as possible until it's at least 80% of your day.
9. Follow your instincts.
You're an entrepreneur for a reason. While you won't always be right, learn to listen to your gut and act fast. Decision paralysis and overthinking are fast tracks to failure.
10. Involve lawyers early and often.
No one likes to pay lawyers outrageous fees, but take it from a guy who has been screwed badly by not using lawyers and capitalized on millions by hiring the best: They are critical to doing good business. Find one you trust, suck it up and include them at all important junctures. I went from avoiding lawyers like the plague to having a team of them overlooking every decision I made.