My entrepreneurial journey started with a very simple, and admittedly somewhat lackluster, objective. I wanted to work for myself. That was pretty much it. I wasn't out to put a dent in the universe, build a unicorn, or get on the cover of Inc. And I certainly didn't set out to get an education on how to be an entrepreneur or run a business. I was still in my 20s and, well, to be honest about how I felt at the time, I knew all I needed to know.
However, along the way I came to appreciate that being an entrepreneur was, above all else, a journey of constant learning. One lesson after another came at me with a velocity and volume I could never have imagined. And no matter how prepared I thought I was, there was always a bigger challenge ahead.
Yet, with each challenge I overcame there was also a sense of greater confidence in being able to take on the next one. The catch is that confidence comes at a steep price -- namely, making lots and lots of mistakes. And yet, despite making more mistakes than I could possible count, my company made the Inc. 500.
What I realized was that doing a few things right can eclipse countless more things that you may do wrong. Which is why I've taken every chance I can to help new and younger entrepreneurs navigate through their own journey. That has never been tougher than it is right now.
So, here are three things that I found to be the cornerstones of building a great company in both my experience and the experience of many of the successful entrepreneurs I've known.
1. Welcome the challenge, but fall in love with the opportunity.
Every single successful entrepreneur I've encountered thrives on challenge; the more terrifying the challenge the greater their passion behind trying to solve it. That can also be enormously frustrating, since just about everyone else will look at the same challenge and tell you why it makes absolutely no sense to attempt to solve it.
Here's the thing: If you're not careful you may get so blinded by solving the challenge that you miss the opportunity. I've written before about the importance of pivots, and I've yet to see a single successful business that didn't have to pivot several times before finding the right opportunity. My advice here is simple: Trust your gut, but keep your eyes wide open and constantly scanning the horizon for the right opportunity.
2. Don't fly solo.
Jobs had Woz, Gates had Allen, and Sergey and Larry had each other; pretty much every entrepreneur I know of has had a partner who is equally invested in the vision behind the company. I call these partnerships the kite and the string. The kite is the person who is always flying high above terra firma -- the visionary and marketing genius. The string is the person who keeps things grounded and real, the operational wizard. One without the other is useless. Together they form a team that can be unstoppable.
I didn't realize how critical this was until I found out how much effort goes into building a business. That's a burden that's infinitely easier to carry if it's shared, especially when you hit the hard times, because that's when you'll need someone to stand you up when you're ready to throw in the towel.
3. Be your customer.
The most important piece of advice that I can give is this: Never, ever stop looking at your company through the eyes of your customer. This applies to every single person you employ, and every touch point between your company and your customers. It's amazing how few companies understand what their customer's journey looks like. Make it a practice to have your employees and yourself experience your company in the same way a customer does. That should include regularly walking through every single step of the customer journey to see what it feels like to be a customer.
There are clearly many more lessons to learn, but if I could teach every entrepreneur just three, from the many that have helped me along my journey, these are without a doubt the most important.