I know the pain points a new entrepreneur faces because, in all honesty, I am one.
Eight months ago, I left the 9-5 world to launch my first company, Digital Press, a ghostwriting agency for entrepreneurs, executives, and business owners that want to build their own personal brand, attract an audience, and truly become influential thought leaders. And just like everyone else, part of being a new entrepreneur has been learning how to deal with obstacles as they present themselves. We all look to each other for help. We take comfort in reading the stories of other entrepreneurs, and how they overcame their own obstacles. We all study and read and listen to podcasts and watch YouTube videos and do whatever we can to supplement our own learning processes--because we've chosen an unconventional road. Even graduate programs at renowned business schools can't introduce you to the stomach twisting that happens when you are bootstrapping your first startup.
Theory, in this game, is such a small part of it. Which is why sometimes the most helpful thing is to just know that you are not alone.
The vast majority of my friends are entrepreneurs. It's the group of people I have come to associate with the most. Some are new to the game. Some are seasoned veterans. And some are much, much older, who offer their guidance and mentorship out of excitement to be part of someone else's hunger. Entrepreneurship is constantly made out to be "all about the money," but the truth is, that's rarely the real driver behind why we do what we do. Even the most wealthy, successful entrepreneurs, and those who live by strict best practices in business, take great pleasure in just bouncing ideas, offering insight, and staying involved in the hustle of it all.
Aside from my own experiences though, I have seen amongst my own network and the entrepreneurship community at large, that there are several obstacles that seem to plague us all. They may take on different forms, depending on personal situations, but the underlying roots are the same.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, it seems like everyone struggles with these 4 things:
1. Focusing on what you're good at, and delegating what you're not good at.
I swear, this is a never-ending challenge, and one that takes people a long, long time to master.
Part of delegating means being ok with someone else owning a portion of responsibilities--which means you, the Founder, being alright with giving up some degree of control. But what all young entrepreneurs need to realize is that this is, truly, the only way to scale. You cannot do everything yourself. You have to, have to, have to be willing to share the responsibility, so that you can get more done, faster.
Look at 20-year-old entrepreneur, Quaine Crews, as an example. He went from "borrowing his friend's Wi-Fi" to build his online marketing business, to eventually buying and then re-selling his first manufacturing company for over $100 million. As he shares it, "One of the things I learned early on in business is not to focus on things I'm not good at. So instead of trying to learn Facebook ads and campaigns, etc., I leave that to my social media marketing team."
Sure, there is value in have a wide range of skill sets, but just remember the opportunity cost. At some point, it's your proficiency in a given area is good enough, and your time is better spent letting someone more well-versed take over.
2. Learning how to manage moments of stress (in positive ways).
The dream of becoming an entrepreneur is lighthearted, but the reality is the road is filled with more challenges than celebrations. For many young hustlers, this is something that seasoned veterans try to point out before getting started, but is a lesson that can only be learned in the trenches.
For Ryan Stobie, a young CEO in his mid twenties, building his company Adventure Bucket List has been a high stakes game with lots of pressure. When I asked him what has caused the most stress, he said, "It's the fact that I want nothing more for my clients and my colleagues to succeed. In the early days of building our company, you feel that weight on your shoulders and have no one to talk to about it. Since then, I've learned that it's critical to have outlets where I can clear my mind. My personal favorite is surfing. Nothing puts my mind at ease like being out there in the ocean, catching a few quality waves. Thankfully, here in Silicon Valley, we're only a short drive from a handful of world-class surf breaks."
Many first-time founders have to learn this lesson the hard way, and go a long time before realizing that balance is actually a necessary part of being successful over the long term.
3. Knowing when to hire the right people.
Another common mistake that gets made in the early stages of building a company is hiring people for roles you don't fully understand yet, or might not even need filled by a full-time employee. In fact, the team you already have can probably work together to get a few extra tasks done each week. Hiring someone too early actually can cause more problems.
Mike Clum, 24-year-old CEO of Clum Creative said this was his biggest challenge when building his video production company.
"When I was just starting, I used to keep all the money for myself, and do all of the work simply because I didn't think I had enough money to hire people. I was very, very busy, and worked constantly, but our sales peaked around the $300,000 mark because that's all the time I had to offer. One day, I finally sat down and took the time to build our a cost model. Instead of keeping all the cash in the company, I built a model that gave a certain percentage of each sale for in-house employees, a certain percentage for subcontracts, and a certain percentage for project costs. As sales increased, my cost calculator told me my budgets for the different types of team members. I then made educated decisions based on calculations, instead of knee-jerk, emotional hiring decisions. In the end, I followed the model and was able to build out a team one by one. And as we grew, the cost model gave me clarity around who I should hire, and when I should hire them."
As my mentor used to say, "Would you rather own 100% of a grape, or 50% of a grapefruit?"
What that means is, by giving up some things in the short term, you end up having more in the long term.
4. Remembering why you started in the first place.
The failure rate for entrepreneurs is staggering, and a major reason is because many give up at the first sign of a major roadblock. They see big challenges as signs that they should throw in the towel, and when the going gets tough, they forget what it was they were really working toward in the first place.
Sometimes, it takes hearing a humbling story of another entrepreneur to be reminded of the intention behind our own ambitions. For Nathan Harris, owner of apopular restaurant in Milwaukee and founder of Ease, a software company for hiring freelancers, his "Why" is motivated by his difficult upbringing and the struggles he watched his parents go through. At the age of 27, his success story is a pivotal one for Millennials.
"When the going gets tough, I really do think about my mother and everything she did to provide for my brother and me. We didn't grow up with much, and went to bed many nights without food or even working electricity. Sometimes, our dinner was just sugar rice and kidney beans. But she never let those things break me. She always reminded me of what really mattered in life, and gave me everything she could so that I could have a better future. My older brother too, he was like the dad I never had. I do what I do, for them," he said.
When everything looks like it's going to come tumbling down, you have to remember your Why.