As the adage goes, 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, calling yourself an "entrepreneur" was like wearing a neon sign that said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with my life."
Today, "entrepreneur" seems to be the job title every young person aspires to have.
If you do your homework and study some of the great entrepreneurs out there, they will tell you that being "entrepreneurial" is a great trait to have. It's not always about owning your own business or building the next Uber. But it is about learning how to take projects and run with them on your own.
New graduates, this is for you. Whether your aspiration is to create the next iconic social media platform, or you simply want to lead a successful department within a major brand, here are 10 crucial lessons from successful entrepreneurs that you can apply to any ambition:
1. "EQ is more important than IQ." - Gary Vaynerchuk, Founder of Wine Library & VaynerMedia
This is one of Gary's guiding principles, which have helped him build two multi-million dollar companies. He says, "What's important is self-awareness and knowing yourself."
Gary's perspective in a lot of his material is that people need to know and recognize deep down if they are cut out for entrepreneurship, or if they have "entrepreneurial tendencies." Too many people aspire to be the #1 person, the entrepreneur, but aren't cut out or made for that position--but waste a lot of time trying to be. It's much better to be the #10 person at a well-established company, and be really good at what you do, than be the #1 person at a company you can't get off the ground.
Know yourself and your strengths--and then build around them.
2. "Always keep your eyes open for new opportunities." - Dr. Barry Nalebuff, Founder of Honest Tea
I listened to Dr. Barry Nalebuff speak in Chicago a few years ago, and his entire speech about Honest Tea was around the concept of not always seeing things as they are, but seeing things as they could be. Honest Tea was one of the first companies to take the concept of making healthy drink to the same marketplace as soda.
"Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it." - Chinese proverb.
3. "There is always a third way." - Ron Gibori, Serial Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Idea Booth, Emmy Nominated Creative Director
Ron became a mentor of mine right after I too had graduated college. One day, we were working together and he asked me to figure something out for a client, and I came back 30 minutes later and told him I'd done the research and it was impossible.
All he said in response was, "There's always a third way. Go figure it out."
An hour later, I figured it out.
This is a lesson I have learned time and time again from Ron, and it is an important one for anyone to learn. There is always a third way, always a solution. Nothing is impossible. It might be frustrating, or annoying, or inconvenient, but very few things are actually "impossible."
4. "The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." - Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple
To quote one of the legends here, Jobs was best known for believing (and executing) the thought that the world is made up of people no smarter than him, you, or me.
This is a powerful thing to realize as a young person stepping out into the world. It can be easy to look around and accept things as they are. Question them. Ask why things are the way they are--and if there is a better way.
Questions lead to solutions.
5. "Simplicity is velocity." - Aaron Webber, Former CEO of Unicity, Investor, Public Speaker
Aaron is another mentor of mine, and in addition to all of the different projects he is involved with, speaks frequently on the subjects of leadership, management, and business.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from Aaron is that simplicity always wins. Especially in business, there is a tendency to want to add more in order to fix something. In reality, adding things tends to only make them more complicated.
Whether you're looking to improve something about your business, or even something within yourself, "Simplicity is velocity." Instead of trying to add solutions, see what you can remove in order to allow the solution to emerge on its own.
6. "You can't steer a stationary ship." - Mark Beeching, Former Chief Global Creative Officer of Digitas, Global Creative Officer of Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious
In the world of advertising and marketing, Mark Beeching is as entrepreneurial as they come.
If there is one lesson I have learned from Mark's work, it's that "You can't steer a stationary ship." This speaks to his creative process, and the belief that answers aren't found by just sitting around and thinking about them. You have to get moving, you have to try things, you have to build, get your hand dirty, and experience it for yourself in order to see where the breakdowns occur--and what you can do to create a solution.
Especially to new graduates, this is a crucial lesson. You have to get moving. Do not fall victim to the bad habit of thinking you have to have it all figured out before you get started. It doesn't work that way. Start the journey, start putting yourself and your ideas out there, and the rest will take care of itself.
7. "Entrepreneurship is about creating change, not just creating companies." - Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook
Straight from one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, Mark Zuckerberg's perspective on entrepreneurship has more meanings than one.
Whenever you are creating something of your own, especially as it relates to a company, it can be very easy to become more concerned with valuations and press releases than with the value your company provides. Spend less effort analyzing your growth charts and more effort thinking of ways to bring your values and mission to the human needs of your customers, fans, or followers. To create a successful and profitable company is one thing. To change the way people communicate, or purchase, or share information, is something entirely different.
8. "Stand by your principles and be comfortable with confrontation. So few people are, so when the people with the red tape come, it becomes a negotiation." - Travis Kalanick, Founder of Uber
This quote speaks very directly to Uber's (controversial) success as a company--and the founder behind the scenes that made it happen.
Even more so, it is a reminder of what it takes in order to introduce something new to a marketplace, or an industry. Whenever something new comes along, there is resistance in some fashion. Either what you are doing questions the status quo, or it puts pressure on the people who currently hold the reigns, or it fundamentally changes the way people within that field see and interpret what it is they're looking at.
This can be scary--and it can also be exactly what you need to happen. Especially if you are young and you are bringing a new solution to a very old and outdated industry, it is imperative that you stand by your principles and your mission.
9. "It's very important to have a feedback loop. Constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself." - Elon Musk, Co-Founder of PayPal, Founder & CEO of SpaceX, Co-Founder & CEO of Tesla Motors
Elon Musk truly is a renaissance man, and has an overwhelming amount of knowledge in extremely diverse industries. Even if we just look at the types of solutions Musk's companies hope to provide to people, it is apparent his aspirations would, to most people, be labeled as "impossible."
Take note: One thing Elon Musk does extremely well is he remains focused on the process and what needs to be improved in order to move one step closer to the thing he hopes to build. By spending less time worrying whether or not it's "possible," he simply gets to work.
This is an important lesson to learn--and even more so, one that takes constant practice. In order to create an effective feedback loop, it can help significantly to have people around you from whom you can bounce ideas, reflect, and push you to continue moving forward.
10. "Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical, and ultimately making a big difference in the world." - Sergey Brin, Co-Founder of Google
And finally, I think this is one of the most important lessons for new graduates and/or anyone stepping out into the world of business: Do not be eluded by "get rich quick" schemes and short cuts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Especially when things don't happen as quickly as you'd like, or if the path is filled with more obstacles than you had imagined, it can be easy to start making short-term choices--instead of remaining true to the long-term vision.
The common thread among all the entrepreneurs listed above is their unrelenting discipline to stay true to something they believed mattered. Their success was not founded upon quick solutions or easy avenues. Their success was founded upon an idea for things to be different, in relation to the needs and values of human beings.
To all new graduates, stay focused, stay humble, and remember: nothing worth building is ever easy.