7 Lessons That Will Make You a Better Entrepreneur

We all want to grow our startup & become better entrepreneurs, right? Two of the most common traits between the best entrepreneurs is being curious and creative and that speaks volumes about how we are all striving to be better tomorrow than we are today. Here are a few lessons I learned at INBOUND 2018 about how to make yourself a better entrepreneur.

Rand Fishkin has identified the following patterns in early stage startups (0 – 200 employees & <$50M in revenue). These lessons are merely patterns, counter examples of successful companies doing the opposite of all these exist.

  1. Do one thing EXTREMELY WELL. Don’t begin by asking “How big can this company be?” instead ask yourself, “What can I be best at that will make me happy, make me known, make my customers well known”. Once you answer those questions it becomes increasingly easier to make yourself known for that one thing & then build on that. Known people & brands have an easier time attracting attention & press and earning organic traffic on new products. All the biggest and best companies started by doing one thing and doing it really well. The key killer is a complicated product, you can’t attract enough customers if your product is too hard to explain what you do and what problem you solve. Quality & complexity are inversely correlated in early stages. Keep it simple y’all!
  2. Stop looking for the next “great tactic” to grow your business. At some point, every entrepreneur falls into believing the classic misconceptions that big markets are better than small markets, execution is more important than ideas, and that a better product outweighs better marketing but a great story covers many sins. “Stories build memories far better than features or benefits” so focus on that story, not on adding the “next great tactic”. Great stories make great startups.
  3. An audience that cares, is far greater than having a large target market. Want to make things hard for yourself? Build for an audience you have no connection to, chase a market that is big enough by pursuing broad, mainstream appeal, or serve a hot growing market that hundreds of other well-funded companies are also pursuing. Want to be successful? Build for the people who already know, like and trust you and earn amplification from a group of passionate, raving fans, serve a market that’s underserved because other’s don’t believe it’s “big enough”, and avoid competing against firms with millions in funding. Start with the people who are easiest to reach, your friends, family and colleges, the people that care and build from there. The companies that are hitting it big now all started with their friends testing their product.
  4. MVPs are not necessarily launch-able products. Beta test with your people – have your friends and family test the product before you throw it out into the world because friends and family are less likely to be disappointed with your first version and give you the feedback you need to launch your EVP.
  5. Long hours at the office are not what is going to make you successful. Working shorter, more productive days may be the key to keeping your startup growing. Americans wear busy like a badge and glorify burn out, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The first ~35 hours we work each week tend to be the most productive. Studies show that after 60+ hours, we’re not just getting less (and lower quality) work done, we’re eating into next week’s potential productivity. A Harvard Business Study article stated that “Managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to” so why set a standard of overworking when you know it won’t pay off in the end?
  6. Hiring the right people is less important than not hiring the wrong people. Sometimes hiring one person that doesn’t fit your culture can be detrimental to the health of your startup. Hire for culture, train for competence. People often rapidly improve knowledge, output and quality work but people rarely improve affinity for new set of values, beliefs and culture. If you hire someone with all the right skills but they are not a good culture fit, you are setting yourself and your employees up for failure. In the study “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, they learned that psychological safety is the most common trait between the best teams. The best way to get that? Fire that brilliant asshole who is on your team, because it takes one asshole to destroy an entire team. The best teams are made up of people who genuinely care for one another and enjoy watching others succeed so hire people who fit into that with your current team.
  7. The odds of becoming a unicorn are far less real than the odds of becoming a zebra. We should not be exclusively celebrating and recognizing the venture backed and institutionally backed companies. “99% of entrepreneurs shouldn’t raise venture capital because it limits exit opportunities, it puts a timeline on business and it requires a 5x greater exit to make the same founder money…” – David Cummings

Before you follow anyone else’s path, ask yourself these questions: What am I seeking professionally? What do I want to create? What level of risk is acceptable? What level of reward is enough? Why that? Is it for me or for someone else?

Watch the entire video from this session with Rand Fishkin at INBOUND 2018 here.

I do not define success as a $billion+ outcome. Success to me is building a business that survives, that you love, that you’re proud to work for. – Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin is the founder of SparkToro and was previously cofounder of Moz and Inbound.org. He’s dedicated his professional life to helping people do better marketing through the Whiteboard Friday video series, his blog, and his book, Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World.