Entrepreneurs become successful, essentially, by refusing to do what everyone else is doing, or by doing the thing everyone else refuses to do. But even when you know you're onto a great thing, it can be difficult to ignore the naysayers and skeptics you'll encounter on your way to growing a business.
When my co-founders, Rob and Marc, and I were seeking investment for the small-business lending start-up that would become Kabbage, there were doubters. We spent a huge amount of time in those early years, like most founders do, explaining to investors why we were worth the risk. My confidence was tested. Investors wondered whether we could raise sufficient debt capital to scale. Some doubted whether customers would be willing to give us access to their real-time business data.
We had to prove there was a significant need to give small business owners a better way to access capital. To prove that our idea could work, we first had to prove we understood why it might not.
Have confidence in yourself, but more importantly your team.
Having total confidence in Kabbage came from having total confidence in my co-founders. If you're eager to launch an idea, I recommend enlisting other points of view. Launching our company required our team's three sets of unique skills: Rob, the one with the idea, Marc, the one with investor connections, and me, the one with FinTech experience. Together, we had the depth of expertise to anticipate potential mistakes, and a breadth of experience to reassure investors we could handle the unexpected.
We sought a lot of advice in the form of meetings with venture capitalists. Their questions and challenges were incredibly helpful in fine-tuning our approach. Whomever you anticipate will be the audience for your value proposition (investors, customers, clients, potential hires) ask them about what they value, and how you can provide more of it. Assume they want to help and listen generously, not defensively. Take their suggestions to heart. These frank conversations can offer you unparalleled insight into what can set your company apart.
Learn to embrace criticism from anyone and everyone.
Correction is a friendly gesture: someone is taking their time to tell you how your business can improve and better meet their needs. Experience has taught me to quickly quiet my defensive reaction, and reframe the feedback with the most positive intent possible. Assume a complaining customer wants to help you improve, and that he represents customers who will come after him--or won't, if you don't fix the problem. Our colleagues and cheerleaders give us the strength to keep going, and our critics show us where we can grow.
My family and friends have always known me to be unconventional, so I didn't face the eye rolls, passive-aggressive expressions of doubt, or pressure to 'just get a job' that many young entrepreneurs encounter. I've largely also been confident in my abilities and in Kabbage as a company (I ditched a graduate English program to jump into eCommerce) though I know many peers struggle with self-doubt and imposter syndrome. It's my hope that having greater diversity in the industry -- more women, people of color, immigrants, and the unconventionally educated -- will help more young people believe in their own talents and capabilities.
So practice pushing aside those who say, "don't do it," or "that will never work." Entrepreneurship is about willingness to take risks, and a 'sure thing' is by definition never innovative enough. Collect the constructive opinions that can teach you something, but ignore the baseless negativity. Believe you can do it, and surround yourself with people who believe you can, too.