What does it take to start a successful business? It's not what you think. All the advice you've learned from experts, books, magazines, and websites like this one might be completely wrong.
At least that's the view from Brian D. Evans, and he seems like he should know. He's a serial entrepreneur who created his first company at 16 and sold it for "a modest five figures" soon after. Since then, he has started a series of successful companies and is currently CEO of the app marketing firm Evani Ads, as well as author of the fascinating entrepreneurship blog Lions Brain.
"I've always been a rebellious entrepreneur," Evans says, and he claims he got where he is by ignoring supposed best practices. "I noticed over the years that there's a lot of information about marketing that's just accepted. Because it's out there, everybody does it. You have to challenge the norm."
Here are six things you're supposed to need as an entrepreneur--but that Evans says you can do just fine without:
1. A fresh idea.
Evans's first product was a kit that made flames shoot out of a car exhaust--he'd seen similar items at car shows and figured out how to build one himself. After that, he created a successful company simply by drop shipping existing health care products that he sold online.
"A lot of first-time entrepreneurs try to innovate and make something completely new," he says. "Nobody knows about it, and then the trap is that you need a ton of money to educate them. I like to go where there is already a market and figure out how to do it better and get more sales than the guy next to me. Going where there's an audience for something, in my mind, is better than going where there isn't."
2. Millions, or at least thousands, in startup funds.
Nope, Evans says--you can get a business going for just a few hundred. The key is learning how to "buy" traffic to your website using performance-based marketing. "We weren't putting out $100,000--we were literally getting sales at fixed costs," he says. "So you might spend a couple of hundred dollars to get some users, but if you pay $1 per user but then you can monetize that user and get $5--anyone can do the math."
Another tactic is affiliate marketing, in which you pay a percentage or commission on each sale, but it's risk-free since if no sale happens, you pay nothing. "I could sell a health care product for $60 and only pay $30 for each sale," he says.
3. A passion for your product.
It doesn't necessarily matter what product you're selling, Evans says. "If I know how to get traffic and sell something, I can get into whatever I want," he explains. "I can become a blanket entrepreneur. They're average blankets, but I know how to buy the traffic, get it to the sales page, and sell as many blankets as I want. I think innovating and creating new things is really cool, but something that's also really cool is being able to create a business and outsell the competition."
So while Evans may not always be passionate about the products he sells, he's always passionate about the business itself. And that is a very useful mindset, he adds. "A lot of people start a business and they give it the good old try. And when they hit a reason not to do it, they go back to that 9-to-5 job. Every project I work on is life or death to me. I have to make sure I sell 50,000 products." His advice? "Find whatever triggers that life-or-death mode in you."
4. A thorough knowledge of your industry.
That can quickly turn into too much of a good thing, Evans warns. "The trap some people fall into is they read and read and read and read," he says. "They lack the ability to just take action. They analyze and analyze, they think they need to read 100 books. You probably have--instinctively, as a human being--all the knowledge you need to start a successful company."
5. A huge social-media following.
"I love social media," Evans declares. "I use Twitter and Facebook daily--I'm obsessed with it." But, he says, a lot of people put a lot of effort into getting all their traffic from social media, and that can be a tough way to build up a customer base. "There's a lot to be said for acquiring traffic outside of social media by paying for it," he says. "People make their entire strategy around social media--'I'm going to engage celebrities!' You may not have the luxury to hire a team and write and post engaging content, but what you can do is spend a little money and get people to your site and [then have] an email list where they can opt in. As a result of that, you're going to get a lot of sales. Social media is often regarded as the only tool, for online businesses especially. While it's a great tool, it's not the only tool."
6. A giant brain.
Many would-be entrepreneurs believe they need to know everything there is to know about creating a successful business, and that they must always be the smartest person in any room. This is a liability, Evans says, because it can make you reluctant to hire people who seem smarter than yourself.
Hiring people smarter than you are will make your company much stronger, he says. "Don't just get people to take the load off you, allow yourself to actually learn from the people who work for you. Ask questions."
And don't feel like you need to know it all. "A lot of entrepreneurs, especially the first time they smell money, get in this mindset," Evans says. "'I'm the best! Nobody's better than me!'" That's a bad place to be, he says. "Richard Branson doesn't know everything. Steve Jobs didn't know everything. Nobody does."