Jump right in. That is perhaps the most candid piece of advice that I could give to anyone who is contemplating starting an enterprise. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the exciting-yet-equally-daunting prospect of building a company from the ground up, but as with all matters in life, you find your way as you journey. I, for instance, never imagined myself as an entrepreneur and spent the majority of my upbringing planning for a career in medicine. As fortune would have it, I stumbled onto the path that I am now on and did so with a naïve sense of entitlement. Consequently, I have been able to experience first-hand the evolution of a raw concept into a brand that is working to help people lead better lives.
I am very grateful to be in the position that I am in. Our founding team - in Jason Dryer and Kelvin Tian - is profusely driven and I find the work that we do on a daily basis to be incredibly rewarding. With that, there are many obstacles that entrepreneurs - whatever domain they may be in - rarely talk about. I oscillate between high and low emotional altitudes, at times questioning my self worth. What enables me to do my job and also overcome the tougher moments is the fact that I genuinely love what I do. If you have not already, try to discover something that you are passionate about - you will stand a much greater chance at thriving.
People are taught from a young age to be discouraged by the word no. The irony, however, is that almost any successful person you can think of is motivated by it. One of the more difficult challenges I faced early on was getting folks with whom I thought it would be helpful to connect to take my meetings or calls. I would send numerous emails, some which extended over a period of several months, and most always did not receive a response. While I could easily have allowed myself to be disheartened by what seemed to be a lack of outside interest and belief in the work that I was doing, I convinced myself that I simply was not far enough along to be taken seriously; and moreover, to keep making progress until and after that changed. As an entrepreneur, you learn very quickly that things often do not go the way you intend - it is part of the battle, just make sure that you keep fighting.
Habits have a funny of way sticking about. Ever since I can remember, I have had an unusual tendency of rubbing my nose vigorously - and I mean in the truest sense of the word - for roughly half of a minute each morning that I wake up. It has now, in fact, become a running joke amongst my close group of friends, and despite all of my efforts to do differently, it is part of who I am - it always has been as far as I know. Although we are still a young company, one of the things that we are paying close attention to is culture, in which our efforts are currently led by a fantastic manager in Dana Spitz. As an example, we place high value on transparency and therefore encourage employees to include each other in all internal emails. One might argue that culture is a matter for us to attend in the future, but we feel that it is important to establish now the identity that we want later on. Indeed, early-stage businesses must focus on present-day objectives in order to survive, but therein also lies an obligation to plan for tomorrow. Think about the brand you would like to be 3, 5 or 10 years from now, and start laying the foundation for it immediately.
Ask for Help
We are hoping to build a terrific set of assets that make a meaningful difference in people's lives. The most interesting thing about this is how we go about the process. Intuit has a practice called Follow Me Home in which members of their staff spend a day at a customer's home or business to observe how their products are used. We are trying to adopt a similar approach in how we conduct our own testing. We imagine that if we can identify our customers and ask them for guidance as we build, then we will be able to serve them best. This took a fair amount of time for our company to fully grasp and appreciate. We spent a great deal of time building before realizing that in order to provide people with real value, we would have to allow them to have more input. I have personally have learned that taking a product to market is not the most critical step - once you are there, you are there. It is everything leading up to that point that truly matters. Believe in yourself and your capacity to make a difference in the world - and never (ever) be afraid to ask for help.
Farai Sikipa is the Founder and CEO of digital health company, Euddle, Inc. The Raleigh-based startup recently acquired a pre-money valuation of $1,325,000 ahead of the release of its inaugural product which goes live this winter.
Follow Farai Sikipa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@faraisikipa