Here's the sugar-coated version of what I'm about to say: Starting your first company comes with a learning curve.
Now here's the harsh-but-true version: A lot of new entrepreneurs just plain suck at being the boss.
Blunt as that is, it's also understandable - there's no doubt that entrepreneurship is hard. Having recently left a job at an established company to found my first startup, a big data security analytics firm called Exabeam, I've learned a lot about how to navigate the logistics of starting a new company and make it run as efficient as possible. With that in mind, here are my five best tips for first-time entrepreneurs:
- Don't strike out on your own too early. If you don't have a drive to create, you're probably not ready to be an entrepreneur. A successful entrepreneur needs to have a real fire in his belly, something that makes him passionate about starting something new. Without that passion, the road is much harder. As much as I loved my previous job, after 10 years I felt it was time to create something new. If you don't have that urge, it might be a sign that you need more time to ready yourself personally and professionally.
- Hire the right people... When you've poured your energy into starting a company, the desire to micromanage and do everything yourself is strong. Hiring "soul players" - people who put their heart and soul into building the business and solving problems - can give you the confidence necessary to trust your employees and allow them the freedom to make decisions that strengthen the company. Look for passionate, driven people with whom you're excited to work, and make sure they mesh well with the company culture. Maintain that team mentality and you'll build a group that's capable of quickly scaling your business.
- ...and hire them strategically. Be humble and recognize that you don't know everything. Let the gaps in your knowledge inform your hiring process. Find people who have the skills you lack, and look for a wide range of expertise in your staff. That way, everyone is able to play to his or her strengths, and the team's strength will make up for any individual shortcomings - yours included.
- Don't be afraid of failure. No matter how smart, talented or meticulous you are, you will fail at some point during the process of founding a company. No one likes to fail, but you can use failure to continue growing and improving. Take the setbacks in stride, and teach yourself to recover gracefully and learn from your mistakes. This is the nature of the beast when it comes to taking risks, and without them you won't have much success. Be bold when it comes to expanding and growing, because those risks will eventually pay off.
- Keep learning. Even if you're an expert in your field, starting a company brings you back to square one in many ways. There are many things an entrepreneur must do that you probably never even considered at your last job. Use your previous experience to your advantage, of course, but keep an open mind and continue to build your skill set. It's also important to keep your ego in check. Your advisors, investors and employees all bring valuable skills and experiences to the table. Learn from them.
You will invariably run into problems when starting your first company. Whether it's a setback in staffing, marketing, business or production, something will not go as you thought it would. There's very little you can do to prevent those obstacles, and that's okay. With the right mindset, a solid team and an honest appraisal of your needs, you can avoid sucking as a first time entrepreneur.