By Beth Doane, managing partner of Main & Rose.
Thinking about leaving your cubicle for the thrills of the startup world? So have 27 million other people like you. The good news is that there are more resources now than ever to help you find success when making this leap. The bad news is that just one small misstep and you can end up right back in your 9-to-5 gig.
I never worked in a corporate environment, started my first company when I was 22, and made a slew of expensive mistakes in those first few years. I attribute being able to survive to the fact that I had great mentors along the way and met fellow entrepreneurs who I could lean on for guidance and support.
I recently caught up with one of these fellow entrepreneurs, Darren Humphreys, who now spends his time tracking lions across the Serengeti or lounging on a remote beach on a hidden corner of Madagascar, but his original career was the farthest thing from this lifestyle. Darren hails from the top ranks of Wall Street and walked away from it to start a travel company. Like me, Darren learned how to scale and be his own CEO through making mistakes.
Below, we compiled the top mistakes founders make and what you really need to know to make it as a true entrepreneur.
Not Finding the Real Niche
Knowing what you want to do -- and are passionate about -- is not enough to make it a business. Even having a business plan, a marketing plan and a whole lot of venture capital won't cut it these days. You must dive far enough into your concept to find the niche within it. If you can identify this niche within your "passion" industry, you will be truly distinctive and it will set you up for success.
Don't leave your career without a plan and enough money to get you through the first six months. A new venture always costs more than you think, and that includes "opportunity cost." When Darren first started his company, he knew if he had to budget and without a plan, he wouldn't get very far. It's worth hiring an expert for your budgeting (and making sure to budget for that expert!).
New ventures always take longer than you anticipate. Darren advises that you should aim for validation within the first 12 months, and profitability within the first three years. I found this to be true: The companies I see succeeding wildly are able to bring a simple product to market and test it quickly, so they can make adjustments and improvements on the fly.
Not Being Selective Enough
You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Finding a co-founder who complements you is crucial, and if you make the wrong choices, it can tank you before you even start. We always eventually become what we are surrounded by, so choose your staff and partners very carefully. Both Darren and I learned to hire slowly (and fire swiftly) in our ventures.
Having Incorrect Definitions of Success
Not all success is measured in dollars and cents: Darren knows this to be true, because he sacrificed things to be able to call the ocean his office. It's easy to forget that success is what you make of it when you are trying to survive and build a business. Quality of life and crafting your own path hold a great deal of value, so before you start on your journey, make sure to write out what is truly most important to you -- like family, your hobbies, giving back and learning new skills.
If fulfillment came from cash, America would be the happiest place on earth. Instead, pay attention to what really inspires you -- and make sure you include that in your daily life.
Beth Doane is an award-winning writer, speaker and social entrepreneur. She is the managing partner of Main & Rose.