I remember it like it was yesterday.
I quit my super fancy job in Dubai. I shipped over ton of my stuff and moved back home to start a business that would bring global business knowledge to the world's emerging markets.
I bought every possible business book out there. I was going to use Robin Sharma's strategies for success. I was going to be like Steve Jobs. I was going to build the next Google. I was going to change the world.
Five years later, we are present in over 30 markets around the world. We organize some of the world's biggest business events in countries like Azerbaijan, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Qatar. Hey, this November we will also be the first international agency to organize a global marketing event in Iran. We have done great! No matter how critical I can sometimes be, I am proud of all of our achievements.
At the same time, I wish things would have been easier. I wish someone would have told me how hard it really was to run your own company. I wish someone would have told me about the sleepless nights, the nervous breakdowns, the anxieties and the uncertainties that come with running your own business.
Sitting in my office after 6 months of endless traveling, I cannot help but ask myself, do we continually make the mistake of presenting only the romantic side of entrepreneurship? Why are we ashamed to talk about the failures? Why are we not comfortable with telling the whole truth? Why are we not talking about the mistakes that we constantly make? Are we actually afraid that by talking about the dark side, we will discourage people from starting their own companies?
I wouldn't say so. I personally would have loved someone to tell me about the dark side but knowing myself all too well, I would have probably laughed and told them that I was not going to make those mistakes because I knew better.
There is no universal answer to my questions but I guess that actually is the whole point of having your own business. You have to find the answers by yourself. The only book that will help you run a successful business is the one that you write yourself. Everything else will just serve as an inspiration to strive for greatness. Fortunately or unfortunately, you have to do the ground work yourself.
I did my ground work and god knows, I also did my share of mistakes. Sometimes I even ask myself, how did we actually survive as a company after so many mistakes. But we did. I don't know what the future hold for us, but I know the following:
1. When you start your own business, other than the idea, certainty and excitement are the two most important elements for success. As a Founder, you have to be constantly excited about your products and your business. If you are not excited, how do you expect your employees or let alone your clients to be excited? Looking at my failures, I know that all those times we failed, it was because I was either not excited about the product or I didn't have the certainty in the product's success.
2. Every company has one vision. Make sure that everyone understands that vision. When I started my company I had the vision of bringing global expertise to emerging markets. I knew the vision and I lived the vision. But I forgot one thing. I forgot to share the vision with my employees. Not only that. I was also adapting my vision to the needs of my employees so instead of having one vision in the company, we had 15 visions, and all of them were different. Success came to us only after our vision as a company was clearly defined and most importantly, when everyone was behind it.
3. You are not Google and you will never be Google. Create your own corporate culture! We are living in an era where we are constantly asked to copy someone else's model of work. I am really happy about Google's success but the truth is that Google's corporate culture works for Google and it doesn't mean that it will work for everyone. Not every company can afford or needs a nap room, swimming pool or a fitness center. You have to create your own corporate culture. A culture that represent you, your employees and the culture of the country where you operate.
4. As a business owner, everything that happens in your company is your own responsibility. A project failed? There is not enough money for salaries for this month? There is no toilet paper in the bathroom? Guess what. It is your responsibility! Learn to be responsible and teach your employees to be responsible, otherwise you will be running a kindergarten, not a business.
5. Never over-promise! When I started my business five years ago, I thought that in less than two years we were going to be a multi-million dollar business. I promised my employees things that I could not realistically deliver. Remember, your employees will hold onto your promise. That is why never, you should never, ever over promise. Surprise them with rewards when they reach a goal or a target but never over promise. You never ever want to end up a liar in their eyes.
6. Cut the emotional umbilical cord with your business. Remember one thing. No one will love your business like you do. Your business is the realization of your dream, not your employees' dreams. If you expect your employees to love your company like you do, you are doomed to fail. It will never happen. But what you can do is find out your employees' dreams and use your company to make their dreams a reality.
7. Don't expect your employees to love you. I spent the first two years of my business life making sure that all of my employees loved me and admired me. I was so wrong. Your employees need to respect you and that's it. Don't expect them to love you. You are their boss not their soul mate.
8. Always hire smarter people than you. In the beginning I was scared to hire people that were too smart. I was afraid that they were going to steal my business idea. I was so wrong. I learned to hire people that are smarter than me, people that will constantly push me to be a better manager and people that will help me build a successful company.
9. There is nothing positive about negative people. Listen, when you are a startup you need to make sure that everyone is on board. In the past I hired some people that brought great business results but were too negative and too poisonous for the environment. I learned that you can always teach a person how to be a great sales person but unfortunately you cannot always teach someone to remain positive when they constantly see the negative in every situation.
10. Never ever stop learning. They say that the moment you stop learning is the moment that you actually die. Same goes for running your own business. You have to constantly learn and evolve. Yes, make mistakes but make sure that you learn from those mistakes. Make sure that you get the lessons out of those mistakes. The moment your ego kicks in and you think that you are the king of the world and you know everything, is the moment that you about to fail. But, if you are open to learn new things, I guarantee you, you will never ever fail!
Today, no matter how crazy it may sound, I am proud of the mistakes that I made. Yes, some of them brought me many sleepless nights and couple of anxiety attacks but at the end, they taught me to focus on the big picture. Without them, I would not have been able to have a successful business in 30 countries. Without them I would not have been able to meet some of the nicest people in the world. Lastly, without them I would not have been able to live the life that I have always wanted to live.
So was the pain worth it? Yes it was. Would I do it all over again? Hell yeah!
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