THE BLOG
10/22/2014 08:34 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

11 Things I Learned Starting My Own Business Right Out of College

Farm Fresh CT

This list was born out of my own experiences but I felt it could be extremely valuable to other young start-ups by helping them avoid some of the mistakes we've made and shorten the time from start-up to viable venture. If anything, it will help you do what I'm doing -- which is learning as I go!

1. White t-shirts are a no-go.

White is impossible to keep clean and we are farmers at the end of the day. We should not be working in white. The same goes for the customer. They are out in the world and white just gets dirty. Most of our customers are like us and are likely not going to use bleach and other harmful stain fighters to keep their shirts white.

Takeaway: If it doesn't work for you, don't push it on your customer.

2. Business needs to be stressed like a muscle so it rebuilds stronger and faster.

When you exercise a muscle you are actually tearing it. It then heals and repairs itself to be stronger. Your business needs to be exercised as well. You need to test it, tear it and rebuild it stronger. If you are not getting yourself and your business out there by testing and rebuilding then you are not structured for success. You will waste so much time perfecting something that no one actually wants or needs.

Takeaway: Determine your minimum viable product, build it, measure it on users, learn from their feedback and start over with version 2.0 and keep this cycle going over and over.

3. Freedom comes through diligence.

One of the most attractive parts of being an entrepreneur is being your own boss and being in control of your schedule. However, at the end of the day, you are not going to be successful if you are not carving out time for productivity and getting shit done! The only way I can do what I want, when I want, is by being extremely focused with the time I'm not having fun with family and friends. That focus is all dedicated to highly productive time working on my business. And it's in this way, through strict planning, that I can be spontaneous and take off for a fun event or social outing because I know how productive I am with limited time.

Takeaway: Work hard and have fun. You need balance. Just define what time is for what purpose.

4. Get out of your comfort zone!

Put yourself -- and more importantly, your business -- out there. I like to call it getting out of the building. You can't hole up all day everyday building your perfect product. Get in front of potential customers, show them what you're working on, find early adopters or buyers and get the testimonials and feedback to fuel future sales and product iterations. I'm a definite introvert and talking with people I don't know without introduction was one of the hardest things for me to do. My stomach rolls at the thought of a cold call or approaching a stranger with the goal of selling them on something I'm doing. If you can't ask someone to take a look or tell them why what you have is valuable, you won't ever make a sale and you shouldn't be an entrepreneur. Getting past this fear and out of my comfort zone is easily the most valuable thing I have done in terms of figuring out specifically what our customer likes about our product and what are the crucial features of our product we should highlight to specific customer segments.

Takeaway: Get out of your comfort zone. If you are feeling fear, then you are progressing, doing something new and untested. That's where you want to be as a startup.

5. Interview your customer.

This goes side by side with getting out of your comfort zone. Not only do you need to get out there but you need to interact with everyone and ask for feedback from everyone. I mean everyone. I don't care if you think they are a potential customer or not; at this stage of the game, you are ignorant as to who your customer is. It's all about discovery and figuring out customer segments you didn't think about, validating your assumptions about who your customers are and invalidating your wrong assumptions. The only way you can do this is through customer interviews. Talk to everyone about your business and what you are doing. I bet without asking people give you their take or an idea they have.

Takeaway: Talk to everyone about your product, get feedback, and adjust your product or service accordingly.

6. Always sell.

Always sell, but not necessarily for profit. Just be passionate, love what you do and share your passion and then ask for help. In the beginning give your product away if you can afford to do so. Get it into the hands of your target demographics and get their feedback. People love to help someone who's doing what they love. They love to help and to test the product and give feedback, too. It makes them feel good and it's an exchange of value between you and your customer. The more you do this, the more viable your product becomes, the quicker you can get testimonials, and the quicker you can get sales.

Takeaway: Get your product into peoples hands, ask them what they think, adjust based on feedback. If they like like it share that with other people. Nothing sells better than testimonials.

7. Surround yourself with like-minded people.

I don't know who originally said it, but I learned this from James Altucher. You are the sum of the five people you hang around most. If you want to grow and strive, hang around with people who have the same goals -- especially entrepreneurs with businesses that have the same customer segments or are complementary to yours. Team up, do events and promote each other socially. Build and share each other's audience. Expect nothing in return. Just keep adding value to your customers and people you want to work with and it will always come back to you. Don't hang around with those who detract from what you're doing, even if these are your best of friends. If they are holding you back, then you need to really re-evaluate that friendship.

Takeaway: You are the sum of the five people you hang around with most. If you don't like who you are or if you are not hanging around with people who inspire you to grow and better yourself, you need to change that. If you do not, you will stagnate. This takes willpower and this doesn't happen overnight. This one is one of the harder ones to swallow but no one has succeeded by hanging around people who put them down all the time.

8. Innovate constantly.

This doesn't mean your business is always shifting. Have focus but always be looking for a way you can reduce stress, increase mass, and increase velocity (how quick you scale up) in your business. It's all about recognizing an opportunity for gain and seizing it. Come up with five ways a day to reduce stress/friction, increase mass, and increase velocity (how quick you scale). Give yourself permission to come up with bad ideas. The point is to just practice thinking of ways to improve and be more efficient. Then you'll be "lucky" because you can always strike while the iron's hot and capitalize on opportunities that present themselves. If you aren't always looking for these ideas to manifest, they could pass you by.

Takeaway: Come up with five ideas a day that either reduce stress and friction, increase mass, or increase velocity for your business.

9. Copy copy that works.

Someone already doing something similar? Are they making sales? Study their ads and their copywriting. Don't fret. Figure out what they are doing that works, why it works, and reflect that in your own copy. Not word for word, of course, but write similar blogs, deliver similar videos, make sure your product or service offers all the value propositions that they also deliver -- and then figure out how you can do it better. Quality has staying power and if you can deliver something better then do it!

Takeaway: Don't reinvent the wheel. If someone else is having success with a strategy or approach selling a similar product, it's for a reason. They are connecting with the customer. Make sure you can deliver the same or better value and innovate the product on top of that.

10. Be the change you want to see in the world.

We recently became the first Benefit Corporation in CT. There are over 20 companies who share that distinction with us and took part in this historic event. Business doesn't need to be this cutthroat winner take all at the expense of others mess. We're humans; we can think about the future and consequences of our actions. We're unique and extraordinary because we are proactive -- not reactive -- human beings. We can look at problems in our environment or surroundings and improve them. This is something almost no other animal can consciously contribute to the environment.

But as humans we still make mistakes. Innovation in business is all about correcting those mistakes and showing others the better alternative to the standard solutions we've been using to fix a problem in our lives. We became an aquaponics farm and we became a benefit corporation for the same reason. We personally had the goal of improving our health, wealth and selves. We chose aquaponics because we wanted to know the source of our food and ensure it was of a certain quality. So that's what we promise to bring each year. As a benefit corporation, we now have to showcase these efforts annually in a report. Gladly.

We're a Connecticut Benefit Corporation because we don't just value profits. Our board has to consider the social, environmental and economical value of every decision and activity our business takes on. It's about leaving our earth and communities in a better state than when we came to them and bringing you only food that lives up to our standards. Its now a mandated part of our business and no matter how large we grow or even if we sell our business it has to maintain these standards as a registered Benefit Corporation.

Takeaway: Do what you love and do what you want to see in the world. Commit to it. You need to be passionate about it. If it's not something you wouldn't do for free and wouldn't commit anything to see accomplished, then how can you inspire others to trust you and buy from you?

So that's what I've learned the past year of starting a business from scratch. Take an idea and making it a viable entity. I have so much more to learn but I know that if I'm constantly improving then I'm on the right track. If you found anything in this article valuable or know someone who could benefit from it, please share it! The best way to accelerate progress is to learn from others mistakes and avoid making them yourself. To get more from us visit freshfarmct.org and sign up for our newsletter.

That being said the most valuable thing I learned in business is a widely known sentiment. Don't overlook it.

11. Under promise, over deliver.

This is up there with the customer is always right. If you over deliver on the promises your product makes, you have the best chance of gaining a customer for life and that is what makes a business successful. So no matter what you're doing -- whether it's a blog post, an interview, a sale or a customer follow-up -- under promise and over deliver.

Takeaway: Under promise, over deliver and you'll find yourself with a cadre of lifetime customers who will champion you and your business.

This post originally appeared on freshfarmct.org.

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Kieran Foran co-founded FRESH Farm Aquaponics in 2012 after graduating from Northeastern University. Prior to graduation, Kieran chanced upon aquaponics through his friend and co-founder Spencer Curry. The two become obsessed with the possibilities of aquaponics and the way it could revolutionize today's dysfunctional food system. They started the company FRESH Farm Aquaponics to be the change they wanted to see brought to world. For more information please visit freshfarmct.org